Monday, December 29, 2014

An Extortionist Has Been Making Life Hell for Bitcoin’s Earliest Adopters

By Robert McMillan

The call came while Hal Finney was in the final stages of his five-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. When the phone rang, his wife Fran was giving him a shower, with help from his nurse. Fran took the call, which came from a 911 emergency dispatch operator. “Are you OK?” the voice asked. “Is anyone being attacked in your house?”

Fran didn’t quite know what to make of the bizarre call, and the operator kept talking, in rather pleasant tones. “I need to let you know that you are about to have a SWAT team come to your home,” the voice said, “and they’re going to ask you to leave.”

When Fran poked her head out the door of her Santa Barbara home, she found the building surrounded by police, and a helicopter buzzing in the air above. It was just days after a disturbed young man named Elliot Rodger had killed six people near Santa Barbara’s University of California campus and the police were especially concerned. The cops yelled at her to drop her telephone and come out onto the lawn, and that’s what she did, leaving her disabled husband, her son Jason, and the nurse in house behind her.

The police eventually cleared the building, and Hal Finney, a noted computer cryptography expert, waited on the lawn for a half hour, shivering in the morning air. Fran worried that Hal, who was unable to swallow, might choke on his own saliva. “I was just panicking that he was going to need suction or something,” she says. “He didn’t have anything with him except his ventilator.”

The Finneys were the victims of a “swatting,” a nasty online hoax where the perpetrator calls up emergency dispatch using a spoofed telephone number and pretends to have committed a heinous crime in the hopes of provoking an armed police response to the victim’s home. In this case, the caller phoned 911, announced that he had just murdered two people, and said was going to kill himself too.

For a year, the caller had been demanding that the Finneys pay an extortion fee of 1,000 bitcoin—worth more than $400,000 at the time—and according to Fran Finney, the FBI agents working the case believe that Hal was just one of several people extorted in this way by the caller. The incident further exposes the rather bizarre and often criminal element that continues to hover around bitcoin, a digital currency that grew out of the internet underworld but has since expanded into the mainstream.

Read the rest here.


  1. Whoa, somebody extorted someone for Bitcoin?! Obviously, Bitcoin is evil!

    Get a life.

  2. Wenzel you have some sort of mental disorder and need to see a psychologist with your ranting against bitcoin. I personally don't care about bitcoin wither way, but step back for a moment and think logically and rationally. What does this article you posted have anything to do with economics, libertarianism, Austrianism e.t.c?

    It has nothing to do with any of your core topics, it's just another non-sequitur post in your long campaign against bitcoin. In fact this article is not even about Bitcoin. People are blackmailed all the time, for liquor, for money, for love e.t.c Should we then hold this against liquor, money or love?

    It's irrational, its illogical, it's a dishonest non-sequitur form of argumentation (which the socialist left use all the time), and its the reason why I barely come to your website any more.