Friday, October 23, 2020

Bitcoin Scam Targets Guilty Spouses


 

 

A plain, white envelope arrives in the mail. The letter inside reads:

“I know about the secret you are keeping from your wife and everyone else.”

The letter goes on to say, “I have evidence of what you have been hiding,” and explains that a $3,450 “confidentiality fee,” made in Bitcoin, would keep the secret safe. If payment is not made, the writer threatens, “I will take this evidence and send it to your wife. And as an insurance against you intercepting it before your wife gets it, I will also send copies to her friends and family.”

A Marco Island man recently received this shocking letter, personally addressed to him at his home. The gentleman, who is an attorney, is not a cheating husband and has nothing to hide, but preferred not to be named for privacy reasons. He reported the letter to the Marco Island Police Department, and provided Coastal Breeze News with a copy to warn our readers.

The letter is disturbing to receive, even for a faithful spouse, who perhaps has a secret not shared with their partner.

We are familiar with online scams. Most of us have received emails from a “Nigerian Prince,” or those promising a large inheritance or lottery winnings following our payment up front for “administrative costs.” The emails are clearly mass-mailed, riddled with errors and sent out at random.

The Bitcoin scam letter, however, includes the recipient’s name and address on the envelope, and uses his name and hometown throughout the personalized correspondence. Adding to the potential believability is the writer’s explanation of how he obtained the damaging information while in the area. “You don’t know me personally and no one hired me to look into you… It is just your bad luck that I stumbled across your misadventures while working a job in Marco Island.”

The scam is also unique in its demand for Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that most of us are not accustomed to using. Taking that into consideration, included in the letter are detailed, two-page instructions on how to make an anonymous online payment in Bitcoin.

The Marco Island recipient did not know anyone else who received such a letter. Captain David Baer of the Marco Island Police Department advised that he was “not aware of any similar Bitcoin letters being received locally,” adding, “however, there have been numerous similar letters sent to individuals throughout the country.”

Online reports show that variations have been received throughout the U.S., with reports from Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Colorado resident David Eargle received a variation of the letter in October 2016 and reported it on his blog. Since then, he has been flooded with messages from people who have received the same or similar letter.

We contacted Eargle about whether he had seen patterns as to who was being targeted. “The only patterns I’ve seen is that for one or two waves, lawyers and some doctors were targeted, but I haven’t seen that recently,” he said.

Eargle’s blog chronicles a new wave throughout the U.S. every three weeks “like clockwork.” With each wave of scam letters, a few dozen more people contact him; roughly one to two hundred people in total.

We had to wonder if anyone had actually fallen for the scam. Eargle told us, “No one who has contacted me has paid. I don’t know of anyone who has paid, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some. I suspect that the subset of people who know enough to Google search for the letter and the subset who will pay does not overlap. That’s why it’s helpful for the media to cover it.”

Yet, even if the victim doesn’t pay, the letter still has the potential to create damage. Eargle told us that, “a few people have said that their wives have found the letters first and that it’s nearly destroyed their marriage until they find that it’s a wider scam.”

We asked Captain Baer for tips on how to avoid being the victim of scams like the Bitcoin letter. He said, “Individuals should always be careful who gets their personal information. Restricting personal information reduces the chance of receiving these types of letters. If someone receives a Bitcoin scam letter they should ignore it, and never pay or communicate with the sender, much like a scam telephone call.”

If you receive a Bitcoin scam letter or any letter that attempts to blackmail you, report it to your local police department through the non-emergency number.

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