Extortion threats linked to tax lists

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More than two dozen affluent Norwegians received frightening letters in the mail over the weekend, threatening harm to their families if they failed to turn over a large amount of cash. Police are linking the threats to Norway’s practice of making income, net worth and tax payment information available to the public.

Newspaper VG reported Monday that the extortion victims were told to place NOK 150,000 (nearly USD 30,000) in cash, wrapped in plastic and paper bags, at their garden gates by 4pm Saturday. That happens to be Halloween, meaning masked extortionists might have a chance of picking up the bags without attracting much attention.

Failure to place the money bags would result in serious injury and/or kidnapping of the victim’s family, warned the letter delivered to one affluent Oslo man. “We swear we will take away the freedom of your family members,” it read. The letter was written in poor Norwegian, full of spelling and grammatical errors.

The letter further stated that “we have equipment that scans GSM and telephones and we know when and who you’re calling.” The extortionists claimed to have killed two adults in 2004 and cut off the hand of an eight-year-old boy in 2007. They also claimed that “six of our people are following what you and your family are doing.”

Several of those who received such letters refused to heed the warnings. Six have already filed formal complaints with local police and as many as 20 others have reported the extortion attempts without filing formal charges yet.

Coincided with tax list release

The letters arrived in the mail just days after Norwegian tax authorities, in accordance with Norwegian law, released tax lists for 2008. The lists show taxable income, net worth and taxes paid for all the millions of Norwegians who have filed tax returns.

One victim told VG that he and his wife were shaken, kept a close eye on their children during the weekend and will inform their children’s schools about the threat. Within a few hours of receiving the letter, however, he defied the threats and contacted the police.

Bjørn Åge Hansen of the Oslo Police District told VG that the letters likely are part of a mass-mailing campaign, carried out by someone who has gone through the tax lists and singled out persons with high incomes and net worth.

“This is most probably a poor attempt to get their hands on some money,” Hansen said, adding that the type of surveillance equipment referred to is extremely expensive and likely a bluff.

He claimed the police are taking the letters seriously because of their threatening content. “But we’re telling the recipients not to be afraid,” Hansen said. “Based on earlier experience, we don’t think the threats will be carried out.”