Extortion goes Crypto in India

Days after kidnappers in South Africa startlingly demanded ransom in Bitcoin, lawmakers in India are being menaced into paying extortions in the same cryptocurrency, with the threat of disruption of their family’s well-being.

The government officials in the state of Uttar Pradesh, most of them from the ruling party, recently claimed to have received text or WhatsApp messages asking them to pay 10 lakh ($14,835) in Bitcoin, otherwise, their families would be eliminated.

In the first-of-its-kind case, probe agencies on Sunday said they have detected transactions of over ₹8 lakh in a cryptocurrency account that was mentioned in the alleged extortion messages received by 22 MLAs.

“During the probe, a cryptocurrency (bitcoin) account, mentioned in the threat messages to legislators, has been detected. Transactions of 1.60368338 bitcoins (₹8.16 lakh) were done in this account. And the entire amount was later transferred to some other account,” Special Task Force (STF) sources said today.

“A total of six transactions, between 6:46 PM on May 2 and 4 AM on May 18, were done in the cryptocurrency e-wallet during which Bitcoin was received and sent through different e-wallets. One transaction each was done on May 2, 3, 4, and 18 and two transactions on May 17,” they said.

News sources in India said probe agencies are investigating as to who did all these transactions.

The state police suspect “professional hackers” to be behind the activity, possibly wanting to craft up this technique to create panic. They have issued an advisory to the people not to be scared.

Interestingly, in all the messages, the sender had named themselves as Ali Budesh Bhai from Dubai, a reference to a gangster once linked to the now Pakistan-based Dawood Ibrahim.

The opposition in the Parliament took this as an opportunity to attack the ruling government’s management of law and order in the state.