Families in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia are among those being targeted by a new type of extortion scam.
The FBI put out a warning about the scam this week, and says its received an increase in reports in our area and across the country.
In most cases, the FBI says con artists are sending letters to men in affluent neighborhoods and trying to blackmail them.
“I opened it up and I read it and it sort of makes your heart drop,” said Jeff Strohl, who received one of the letters a few weeks ago at his home in Northwest Washington. “Basically it says hey you don’t know who I am, but I know your secret and I’m going to tell you wife unless you send me $15,750.”
The letter says the sender has evidence of what the men have been hiding and includes instructions on how wire the blackmail money using bitcoin.
If the recipient chooses to ignore the threat, the scammer writes that “I will take this evidence and send it to your wife. And as an insurance against you intercepting it before your wife gets it, I will also send copies to her friends, family, and to all your nearest neighbors. So even if you decide to come clean with your wife, it won’t protect her from the humiliation she will feel when her friends and family find our your sordid details from me.”
The FBI says the scammer is sending the letter in large numbers, in hopes that some of the men who receive it may actually be cheating on their wives or have something else to hide, so they opt to pay up.
The FBI calls it a new twist on an extortion scam: con artists hoping that men who may be cheating on their wives get this letter, get worried, and pay up.
The letters are being sent to homes in affluent neighborhoods all over the country, including Northern Virginia & DC. pic.twitter.com/MGZBrKaMV1
— Heather Graf (@ABC7HeatherGraf) August 11, 2018
Strohl is not one of those men. He and his wife, Elena Bardasi, have been happily married for 14 years.
Strohl says he called his wife immediately after opening the letter.
“I was not concerned about any secret,” Bardasi said.
But the couple did want to make people aware that this is happening, so they contacted the FBI to report the suspicious letter.
They also notified neighbors through a community listserv and quickly learned several other people living nearby had received similar letters.
“When you first get it, you do search your soul and think is there something I did that I would worry about people knowing about?” Strohl said. “And you finally conclude, no. And that’s where you know this letter is really a scam.”
The FBI says anyone who has gotten one of these letters or fallen victim to the scam should report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
According to authorities, the scammer typically uses the recipient’s personal information in the letter to add a higher degree of intimidation to the scam.
In most cases, the recipient is accused of visiting adult websites, cheating on a spouse or being involved in other compromising situations.
The FBI did not release numbers on how many people have actually paid the blackmail money.
Strohl encouraged people not to pay any money to the con artist.
“Even if you’ve done something, everything about extortion says that once you start paying it never ends,” Strohl said.
In the case of Strohl and Bardasi, the scammer clearly picked the wrong couple.
“It’s horrible that people that do this exist,” Bardasi said. “I was not worried because I didn’t think for a moment it was a real thing.”