SAN FRANCISCO — The currency they were after was virtual, but the guns they carried were anything but. In the beach resort of Phuket, Thailand, last month, the assailants pushed their victim, a young Russian man, into his apartment and kept him there, blindfolded, until he logged onto his computer and transferred about $100,000 worth of Bitcoin to an online wallet they controlled.
A few weeks before that, the head of a Bitcoin exchange in Ukraine was taken hostage and only released after the company paid a ransom of $1 million in Bitcoin. In New York City, a man was held captive by a friend until he transferred over $1.8 million worth of Ether, a virtual currency second in value only to Bitcoin.
The rich have always feared robbery and extortion. Now, big holders of Bitcoin and its brethren have become alluring marks for criminals, especially since the prices of virtual currencies entered the stratosphere last year.
Virtual currencies can be easily transferred to an anonymous address set up by a criminal. While banks can stop or reverse large electronic transactions made under duress, there is no Bitcoin bank to halt or take back a transfer, making the chances of a successful armed holdup frighteningly enticing.
You have 4 free articles remaining. Thieves have taken advantage of this system in a startling number of recent cases, from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey to Canada, the United States and Britain. Read more from nytimes.com…
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