It might be one of the biggest cases of extortion for bitcoin; a criminal has sent a parcel with a nail bomb to a place close to Potsdam Christmas market. To not do it again, he demands €10 million ($11.79 million) in bitcoin form parcel service DHL. Does bitcoin make blackmailing great again?
It is not the first time people try to get ransom in bitcoin. In Germany, there have been several cases of extortion attempts with food intoxication, and even German railway giant Deutsche Bahn became subject to the WannaCry ransomware. Blackmailers like bitcoin, because it makes it easy to receive money. That’s nothing new.
However, the recent event around Potsdam Christmas market is special. With it, bitcoin extortionism reaches a new level. Someone sent a parcel with nails, firecrackers and a detonator to a pharmacy close to the place where the Potsdam Christmas market is taking place. The bomb was constructed that it explodes when the packet is opened. However, the pharmacists noticed some strange wires, coming out of the packet, and when he carefully started to open it, he heard a sibilant. He stopped opening it and called the police.
The police took the packet and analyzed it. Besides nails, firecrackers and the detonator they found a QR code, which contained a note of the blackmailer. He demands that German parcel service DHL pays €10 million in bitcoin. If not, he will send bombs to addresses across Germany.
According to the note, the extortionist has already sent another, similar bomb parcel to a merchant for electronics in Frankfurt at the Oder. The merchant opened it, but the parcel only went up in flames. The blackmailers seem not to be a professional bomb constructor, or not as willing to risk other people’s live for his greed, as he makes it appear.
Police are expecting that there will be more parcel bombs to come. Small enterprises, but also individuals, are asked to be careful when accepting packets. They should not open parcels from unknown senders, and immediately call the police if they notice abnormalities, like wires sticking out. In Ulm, a city in the south of Germany with about 100,000 people, some employee of a company followed this advice. After receiving an unidentifiable parcel, he called the police, which evacuated the building and shut off the road to it. However, it was a false alarm; the packet contained nothing but an advertisement.
The blackmailer plays with the fears of the people. It is not an accident that the first parcel was directed close to a Christmas market near Berlin. It brought back memories to the terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market in 2016, which was the first big Islamist terrorist attack in Germany.
But the extortionist also plays with a fundamental right in free societies; the secrecy of the post. The German constitution says that everything that is sent with postal services must stay secret. Neither the postal service nor law enforcement are allowed to inspect the content of parcels routinely. If ‘Big Brother’ was in search for a reason to abolish the secrecy of the post; now he has found it.
The role of bitcoin in these events cannot be talked down. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin cut the physical connection in the delivery of money, which has been one of the major weaknesses of most extortion attempts. The only fact which is given is that the blackmailer has a bitcoin address. This doesn’t say anything about him. Not a tiny thing. Bitcoin can make extortion great again.
Bitcoin allows you to receive money anonymously. However, and many people are not aware of this, it doesn’t enable you to send money anonymously. If the DHL pays the ransom, most likely it will not, the extortionist might feel the little anonymity of bitcoin. The address he receives money with will be tagged in the blockchain and blacklisted on every business. When the extortionist spends the coins, it will be possible to follow the money. Whenever the blackmailers attempt to cash out on exchanges, the probability is high that he will be caught.