The FTC: A Surge in Bitcoin Extortion Frauds that Target Cheating Spouses

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently warned the public that there appears to be a growing fraudulent venture out there which utilizes the relative anonymity of cryptocurrency, an extortion racket the preys on a very prevalent manifestation – cheating.

According to estimations and statistics, in more than a third of all marriages there’s at least one side who admits to cheating. With this piece of staggering data, it’s no wonder that scammers play on the chance that their victims have something to hide. Cristina Miranda from the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education reveals the following boilerplate blackmail message that is being sent to men as the extortionists expect that at least some victims would fall into the statistics and consequently pay to hide their marital transgressions.

“I know about the secret you are keeping from your wife and everyone else. You can ignore this letter, or pay me a $8600 confidentiality fee in Bitcoin”.

Miranda further explains that the swindlers elaborate how to make the payment with Bitcoin, and if someone encounters such an extortion then he/she needs to promptly report it to the local police and also to the FBI.

It is important to stress that this rising Bitcoin scam does not only occur within the virtual boundaries of the internet via email, but could also arrive at the victims’ doorstep – literally. Over the past year, there have been numerous reports (for instance: 1, 2) regarding Bitcoin blackmail letters that are sent through the postal service directly to people’s homes and demand payment or else the alleged cheaters would be exposed and humiliated. And apparently, the mere threat – whether the extortionist actually holds evidences or not – is enough to scare people into paying.

“The amount of money is such that it’s not so much that someone might be willing to just pay that to make it go away,” said Patrick Wyman, a supervisory special agent with the FBI’s money laundering unit. “They’re hoping that they might get lucky with someone who actually … [has] some infidelity there. And if they hit that target, that’s a person who’s probably willing to pay.”

It is also important to mention that not only men are potential marks of such an extortion, and women could also find themselves in similar distressing situations. In the comments section of the FTC post, a commentator called Hana shares her own uncomfortable experience:

This Bitcoin scam is not only targeting males! I am a female and have also received a similar threat. The email had somehow confiscated one of my passwords and threated [sic] to use pictures, etc. to make pornographic videos and posters using my face. They also demanded that I pay thousands of dollars in Bitcoin.

Blackmail is obviously nothing new in the world, but the unique characteristics of cryptocurrency that enable an exchange of money in greater anonymity than traditional currency unfortunately generate an opportunity for criminal elements to exploit people’s secrets and fears. Hopefully, law enforcement agencies would find better ways to capture these crypto extortionists.