Frightened workers have wired thousands of dollars — and in one case took off their clothes — to placate a caller who said he was watching them but may have been thousands of miles away. The FBI and police said Wednesday they are investigating similar bomb threats at more than 15 stores in at least 11 states — all in the past week.
“At this point, there’s enough similarities that we think it’s potentially one person or one group,” FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said from
No one has been arrested, no bombs have been found, and no one has been hurt, though the calls have triggered store evacuations and prompted lengthy sweeps by police and bomb squads.
Law enforcement officials say the caller claims to have a bomb and orders the store to send money to an account through an in-store money transfer service such as
The first of the threats that federal investigators are aware of came last Thursday at a Safeway in
“He’s just ad-libbing,” Bailey said. “He can’t see anything.”
Nonetheless, Bailey said, the employees were so afraid they wired the caller $3,000. The manager even hung up the phone when authorities called, saying a bomb would go off if he talked to them.
Bailey said that in a phone call with police, the man even offered to trade a “hostage” for a police officer to make his threat more believable.
The caller has not gotten every store he’s called to give up money, but the FBI on Wednesday did not provide the total amount taken.
Also targeted were Dillons grocery stores in
He then demanded that one of Piros’ fingers be cut off for every hour his demands were not met, and another employee got a butcher knife on his orders, Case said. Jim Peterson, a customer, told the newspaper that people became distraught.
“People came undone and started saying, ‘No, no,”‘ he said.
Piros was not harmed. Police there initially said they were investigating whether the caller had hacked into the surveillance system, but later backed away from that possibility.
The calls continued Wednesday, with a threat at a Hannaford supermarket in
Store maintenance associate Ivan Garay told the Bangor Daily News that store manager Michael Bennett told everyone to sit on the floor. Later, they were told there had been a bomb threat.
At a Safeway supermarket in
“The maximum that
Initially, the caller led employees to believe he was observing them.
“After a while, it sounded like he was just taking a shot in the dark at what they might be doing, or what they looked like or how they were reacting to his call,” Prescott police Lt. Ken Morley said.
Sherry Johnson, a spokeswoman for Englewood, Colo.-based
A message seeking comment from another money-transfer service used, St. Louis Park, Minn.-based, MoneyGram International Inc., was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Kapin said the FBI found the call was made from a cell phone registered to a
Callers also tried to extort money with calls to a US Bank in
Separately, the FBI is looking into bomb threats on college campuses, including two in
Kenyon, in Gambier in central