According to an article at our favorite security website Krebs On Security, there has been a recent rash of extortion attempts made on relatively small restaurants located in Florida and California. The notices all look identical and demand that the restaurant owners pay in bitcoin to avoid an attack of defamation that includes but is not limited to bad publicity, bomb threats, vandalism, complaints to the Better Business Bureau, harassing phone calls, mercury poisoning, and more. It’s interesting that the targets are small local establishments, but it becomes clear that this could be an effective way to get unwary restaurants to cough up the bitcoin out of fear – local restaurants depend on good publicity and Yelp type reviews in order to stay competitive.
At the time of this article, one bitcoin is worth $561 USD (although this price fluctuates as the market changes). If the restaurant does not cough up the bitcoin by a certain date, the ransom goes up to three bitcoins.
It seems that two of the letters appear to have been mailed from Orlando, Florida, and seem to have a thing for pizza places.
The restaurant owners thought that it was probably a joke….until they posted the letters online and became worried that it might be all too real. However, law enforcement is adamant that there are probably details that the criminals missed – and if caught they face a barrage of charges. Mail fraud is no laughing matter, and penalties for messing with the postal service can become very painful indeed.
This is a mail fraud attack that is similar to the Cryptlocker wave that was a ransomware malware program that would encrypt a victim’s hard drive and refuse to release the information until the victim had paid in bitcoin. The problem is that it’s difficult or impossible to reverse this program, and unless you have adequate backups of the data you’re out of luck if you choose to stand your ground.
But why the sudden increase in these types of extortion crimes and threats? The answer lies in the relative anonymity of the bitcoin currency, and the way that criminals can use bitcoin and the darknet to conduct covert transactions that can be difficult or impossible to trace.
The hardest part of extortion is getting away with the money cleanly, and bitcoin seems to be giving American extortionists a very easy outlet to do so.