US law enforcement and retailers are investigating an escalating series of bomb threats against grocery stores and other retail outlets across the country. Companies including Whole Foods Market have reported threats at numerous locations from New Mexico to Wisconsin, with some criminals demanding gift cards, bitcoin, or cash and threatening to detonate bombs if payments were not made. While evacuations have been carried out with police assistance, no suspicious items have been found so far.
The wave of bomb threats demanding ransoms is an emerging form of extortion targeting retailers and appears to have commenced earlier this year, according to security and industry experts. “It’s yet another evolving scam,” Lisa LaBruno, Senior Executive Vice President of Retail Operations at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, told the WSJ. In response, retailers are cooperating with local and federal law enforcement agencies, while sharing information about threats and their responses within industry associations.
Kroger said it is working with local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and that the safety of the company’s employees and customers is its top priority. “Every single day, we worry about safety and take everything extremely serious,” said Rodney McMullen, chief executive of Kroger.
The FBI, while working in conjunction with local and state law enforcement, has urged public vigilance and reporting of any suspicious activities.
Unfortunately, tracking the origin of these threats has been challenging due to the use of blocked phone numbers. While it remains unclear whether these threats are organized, or where they originate, no individual store has received more than one threat, and not all calls demanded payment. Industry insiders and law enforcement have advised against conceding to ransom demands and have recommended gathering as much information as possible during these calls to aid identification efforts.
These threats pose a significant disruption to retailers who must close stores, evacuate customers, and engage law enforcement in response. While specific safety protocols vary, most retailers encourage employees to report threats to leaders and inspect the premises for any unusual objects. This increasing trend of bomb threats compounds existing safety concerns for retailers, including theft, shootings, and other security issues.