A rash of bomb threats were emailed on Thursday to countless businesses, public offices and schools across the United States and Canada requesting payment in cryptocurrency, but none of the threats seemed credible, law enforcement officials said.
Initial fear caused by the surge of awkwardly worded messages, threatening to set off explosives unless $20,000 were delivered in bitcoin, lowered within hours as some local authorities began describing the electronic extortion notes as a scam.
One email targeting a St. Louis-area middle school was followed by local investigators to an internet protocol, or IP, address in Moscow, the sheriff’s office in Lincoln County, Missouri said.
But U.S. government sources speaking on background to Reuters said that this kind findings were indecisive and that federal investigators doubted that Russians or the Russian government were involved.
The officials warned that such an IP address does not mean it came from Russia because the sender could have electronically laid a false trail to cover up its true origin. They suggested instead that the flurry of emails were part of a wide-scale digital hoax.
The security fear began briefly before 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) as police departments in major U.S. cities coast to coast started reporting on Twitter that numerous local businesses had gotten the disturbing emails.
Six hours into the security fear, no definite explosives had been discovered, authorities said. But the threats led to brief evacuations of a Toronto subway station and a newspaper office in Raleigh, North Carolina. Some public schools and businesses also were emptied as a precaution.
Lieutenant, Andy Binder, Lincoln County, Missouri, sheriff’s spokesman said authorities bused the students from a middle school receiving one of the threats to another campus as a warning, but the school was later determined to be safe and classes will resume there on Friday.
Among other cities where bomb threats were another by authorities were Washington, New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids, Iowa, Denver, Ottawa, and Calgary, Alberta.
According to police, many hours after North America was hit, similar email threats were showing up in New Zealand
Police at the University of Wisconsin in Madison tweeted an image taken of one email threat found to be going round that said in part: “Good day. There is an explosive device (lead azide) in the building where your company is conducted. It is assembled according to my guide. It is compact and it is covered up very carefully. It can not damage the structure of the building, but in case of its explosion you will get many wounded people.”
The campus police tweet finalizes by referring to the emails as “a SCAM happening nationwide.”
The FBI and other federal agencies were called to the email chains, officials said.
Rukelt Dalberis, an FBI spokesman in Los Angeles, told Reuters separately “We are aware of threats being made in cities across the country, “We remain in touch with our law enforcement partners. We encourage the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activities that could represent a threat.”
Same wave of emailed trick bomb threats in December 2015 led officials in Los Angeles to close the city’s public school system, which national law enforcement officials later condemned as an overreaction.
Two weeks earlier, a married couple motivated by Islamic State had killed 14 people at a California county office building in a shooting rampage.
A teenager with dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship was detained in Israel in March 2017 for making bomb threats to over 100 Jewish organizations and Jewish community centers in dozens of U.S. states over several months.