A Florida man called police on Monday after getting an odd — and ominous — piece of mail.
The letter threatened to reveal a “secret” that was being hidden from the letter recipient’s “wife and everyone else” — unless a $8,900 fee was paid in the virtual currency Bitcoin to keep the damaging information under wraps, according to a Facebook post from the Fellsmere Police Department.
In the threatening letter, the blackmailer included “detailed instructions on Bitcoin exchange procedures” and identified themselves as “SwiftMood54,” police said.
There was a glaring problem with the letter, though: It was addressed to a relative of the man who called police about it, but that relative had never lived at the address the letter was sent to.
Suspecting it was a scam, the man who actually lived at the home called authorities. He didn’t want to make a police report, but authorities posted about the incident online to warn others of the scam.
The Florida man who ended up with the threatening letter isn’t the first to encounter the Bitcoin blackmail scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
“Scammers have been sending letters to men, demanding payments using bitcoin in exchange for keeping quiet about alleged affairs,” Cristina Miranda, of the federal agency’s division of consumer and business education, wrote in August. “This is a criminal extortion attempt to separate people from their money.”
Miranda said anyone who suspects this or a similar scam is targeting them should report the scam to local police and the FBI.
The FTC described blackmailers using language similar to the language in the letter Fellsmere police posted about.
“I know about the secret you are keeping from your wife and everyone else,” one version of the scam letter reads, according to the FTC. “You can ignore this letter, or pay me a $8600 confidentiality fee in Bitcoin”.
A professor in Colorado got a letter at his home in 2016 that targeted him in a very similar mail scam — this one demanding $2,000 in Bitcoin and telling the receiver that “I know you cheated on your wife,” the recipient said in a blog post.
“I had to think for a second because I was in a bit of a fluster, ‘Am I actually keeping a secret from my wife?’ ” said Dave Eargle, a happily, faithfully married professor at University of Colorado’s business school, according to CNBC. “It was scary because I felt like I was being targeted.”
Statistics on cheating in the U.S. suggest scammers might be smart to blindly accuse men of cheating: 20 percent of men said they have had sex with a person outside their marriage, according to the Institute for Family Studies. Compare that with 13 percent of women reporting sex outside of marriage.
“They’re hoping that they might get lucky with someone who actually … [has] some infidelity there,” said Patrick Wyman, an agent with the FBI’s money laundering unit, according to CNBC. “And if they hit that target, that’s a person who’s probably willing to pay.”
Wyman also said the using a virtual currency like Bitcoin in the scam makes it harder, though not impossible, to track down the perpetrators, CNBC reports.