Police were monitoring multiple bomb threats in New York City on Thursday, though none of them were considered credible, the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau said.
The threats were sent electronically to various undisclosed locations in the city and are similar to others reported across the country, according to police.
"Please be advised — there is an email being circulated containing a bomb threat asking for bitcoin payment. While this email has been sent to numerous locations, searches have been conducted and NO DEVICES have been found," the NYPD tweeted around 2:50 p.m.
Police said it appeared the threats were meant to either obtain money or cause disruption. The emails contain language that attempts to blackmail people into exchanging Bitcoin payments so that an explosive device allegedly planted at the location would not be detonated, police said.
Please be advised – there is an email being circulated containing a bomb threat asking for bitcoin payment. While this email has been sent to numerous locations, searches have been conducted and NO DEVICES have been found. pic.twitter.com/7omOs13Z7Q— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) December 13, 2018
"We’ll respond to each call regarding these emails to conduct a search but we wanted to share this information so the credibility of these threats can be assessed as likely NOT CREDIBLE," the NYPD said in another tweet.
The source of the emails was not immediately clear. The threats targeted hundreds of businesses, public offices and schools across the United States and Canada. In addition to New York, threats were reported in Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Denver, Ottawa, and Calgary, Alberta.
Several hours after North America was hit, similar email threats were showing up in New Zealand and Australia, officials said.
Police at the University of Wisconsin in Madison tweeted an image taken of one email threat found to be circulating that said in part: "Good day. There is an explosive device (lead azide) in the building where your company is conducted. It is assembled according to my guide. It is compact and it is covered up very carefully. It can not (sic) damage the structure of the building, but in case of its explosion you will get many wounded people."
One email targeting a St. Louis-area middle school was traced by local investigators to an internet protocol, or IP, address in Moscow, the sheriff’s office in Lincoln County, Missouri said.
We’ve received a number of reports from campus staff who have received an email like this one — threatening an explosion if money isn’t paid to the sender via Bitcoin.— UW-Madison Police (@UWMadisonPolice) December 13, 2018
Please know we’re aware of these and this is a SCAM happening nationwide. pic.twitter.com/RudDgx15AA
But U.S. government sources speaking on background to Reuters said that such findings were inconclusive and that federal investigators doubted that Russians or the Russian government were involved.
The officials cautioned that such an IP address does not prove it came from Russia because the sender could have electronically laid a false trail to cover up its true origin. They suggested instead that the flurry of emails were part of a wide-scale digital hoax.
The FBI said it was investigating the matter.
"We encourage the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activities that could represent a threat," Rukelt Dalberis, an FBI spokesman in Los Angeles, said.