Three schools in the Idaho Falls area were placed on a heightened state of alert on Tuesday after receiving identical threatening emails.
School officials at Eagle Rock Middle School, Alturas International Academy and American Heritage Charter School all received the emails.
The messages, which the Idaho Falls Police Department and Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office believe are scams, ask the schools to send money to a Bitcoin account in exchange for information about an upcoming threat to schools in the area.
“We have made all schools in the county aware of it. There is nothing credible to it, but we are alert and taking it seriously,” Bonneville County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bryan Lovell said.
Lovell said the identical nature of the messages and the vague details of the threats were the biggest indicators that it was likely a scam.
Police officers were stationed outside the three schools and a few nearby schools in the city as a precautionary security measure. Parents were notified of the situation via emails and text messages early Thursday morning. All three schools were placed under a lockout for the day, with the main doors barred to visitors and students largely prevented from going outside, but classes continuing as normal.
“We are trying to reduce the anxiety the kids might feel from something that law enforcement feels is likely a scam or a hoax,” said American Heritage’s executive director Jim Dalton.
Idaho Falls Police Department allowed Eagle Rock to end the lockout around 2 p.m. after determining the threat was not legitimate.
“Whether it is a scam or not, this is a crime and a serious matter that we are investigating,” Police Department spokeswoman Jessica Clements said.
Dalton and District 91 spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne both said this was the first time they could remember getting an email threat like this. In 2012, Rigby High School received a phone call regarding a bomb threat that required the school to be cleared and searched for any suspicious devices. Weeks later, it was determined to be a hoax call from overseas via a Voice over Internet Protocol line.
The attack is the latest iteration in a number of scams and hacking attempts that have come through schools in eastern Idaho and across the country. Bingham County officials paid $3,000 in Bitcoin to decrypt police and school computers affected by ransomware in 2017, and District 91 had a dozen email accounts compromised by a Trojan virus last winter.