A woman in Youngsville, North Carolina, whose pet dog had gone missing, was told to pay a bitcoin ransom by criminals claiming to have taken the family pet.
Patricia Howell was told to pay $600 in bitcoin or Happy the basset hound would be sold or killed. The pet owner said that she knew it must be a scam because she already had her dog back.
When Happy went missing, Howell posted details of the lost pet on Facebook and a service called Pawboost. It is believed that the criminal found her details on social media, and tried to take advantage of the pseudonymity that bitcoin affords consumers.
The caller said that they were using a burner phone that could not be traced by the police. The matter has been reported to Granville County Sheriff’s Office, who said that this was the first time they had dealt with such a case, but that they had heard of similar instances in other areas of the country.
Howell said that the criminals “need to find a better way to make money”.
Bitcoin has developed a reputation for being used in scams and blackmail attempts, both because transactions are not reversible and many people mistakenly believe that they are always untraceable.
They are also used in ransomware attacks on computers, with some attacks netting millions of dollars for the perpetrators. Victims are told that if they do not pay a ransom fee, usually equivalent to around $200, their personal files will either be deleted or shared online.
Although the method of contact and finding the victims was different, the rest of the details of this attempted ransom sound the same.
On Wednesday, 13 year-old South African schoolboy, Katlego Marite, was snatched by a gang in Mpumalanga on Sunday. Katlego was taken by three men while he played with two friends. As the kidnappers left with Katlego, they dropped a ransom note. The note demanded a payment of $120,000 worth of BTC be paid in order for the boy to be returned to his parents. The ransom has not yet been paid.
In December 2017, kidnappers made $1 million in bitcoin in exchange for the life of Pavel Lerner, a blockchain expert and an executive at a UK-based cryptocurrency exchange. Once the ransom was paid, Lerner was released by the Ukranian kidnappers.
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