Missoula city offices, including animal control, reported receiving bomb threats by email Thursday, believed to be part of a nationwide extortion scheme seeking Bitcoin ransoms.
Missoula County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Brenda Bassett said law enforcement does not believe there is an active threat to the public. The city offices that received the emails turned them over to the sheriff’s office Thursday afternoon. The county bomb team is working with the FBI to investigate the matter, she said.
The emails that came to Missoula were part of a wave of bomb threats emailed Thursday to hundreds of schools, businesses and government buildings across the country. They triggered searches, evacuations and fear — but there were no signs of explosives, and authorities said the scare appeared to be a crude extortion attempt.
Law enforcement agencies across the country dismissed the threats, saying they were meant to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money and were not considered credible.
Some of the emails had the subject line: “Think Twice.” They were sent from a spoofed email address. The sender claimed to have had an associate plant a small bomb in the recipient’s building and that the only way to stop him from setting it off was by making an online payment of $20,000 in Bitcoin.
In the wake of Thursday’s emails, some schools across the country closed early and others were evacuated or placed on lockdown. The bomb threats also prompted evacuations at city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the offices of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a suburban Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.
In Helena, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said the airport and a resident received the threats. And in Billings, the Police Department was among numerous organizations targeted Thursday with an email threatening to blow up their building should they fail to pay someone in cryptocurrency.
The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office was also investigating a report made Thursday by a local woman saying she had received an email threatening her with explosives if she did not pay in bitcoin, said Sheriff Mike Linder. Linder said it could have been the same email received by BPD.
Three separate bomb threats, with the first one targeting a business, were received in Bozeman beginning at noon, according to a press release issued Thursday night by the Bozeman Police Department.
Frank Shaske, an animal control officer for Missoula County, said their general mailbox got what looked like a spam email that included a generic-sounding bomb threat. While it wasn’t taken seriously, the email was forwarded to the IT department, who sent it to the sheriff’s office.
“They wanted Bitcoin for ransom,” Shaske said. “It said something like one of his people planted a bomb at your business location and we have mercenaries securing the building. It was pretty poorly written with a lot of misspellings.”
The animal control office continued normal operations, he added.
City of Missoula spokeswoman Ginny Merriam said the Missoula Redevelopment Agency received one of the threats, but a check by Missoula police found nothing of concern.
University of Montana students received a text alert Thursday afternoon but UM communications director Paula Short said the campus has not received a direct threat.
UM sent the following text alert Thursday afternoon:
Missoula government offices have received two bomb threats via email today. Missoula law enforcement has investigated and discovered through the FBI Bomb Data Center, there is a nationwide extortion scheme requesting money via bitcoin. The University of Montana Police Department (UMPD) would like the campus community to be aware of, and to report any threats to our office at 243-4000 emergency line or 243-6131 non-emergency line.
Should you receive a threat to a campus location we encourage you to use your normal procedure of having a person familiar with the building check for unusual items, packages or people. If something suspicious is located, call UMPD and we will respond. The FBI is currently working to backtrack these emails to their source.”
UM sent the alert to instruct campus members to contact the UM Police Department if they received a threat via email, Short said.
The Helena Independent Record and Billings Gazette contributed to this story.