Criminal Gang Abducts and Tortures Cryptocurrency Traders, Demands Massive Bitcoin Ransom

A criminal gang operating in India kidnapped and tortured cryptocurrency traders in recent weeks before demanding 80 bitcoins as ransom, police say.

The ordeal—which lasted more than two weeks for the victims—came to an end yesterday as seven people linked to the gang were arrested, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported. Law enforcement in Jaipur city said the police operation on Sunday lasted 13 hours.

Three men had been held captive for 15 days inside a high-rise building and were beaten or tortured, deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Vikas Sharma told local media. The individuals were named as Luftan Shaikh, 19, Mohammad Shazad, 36 and Malang Shah, 44.

"The gang kidnapped Shaikh and Shazad, two bitcoin traders, and demanded 80 bitcoin worth ₹8 crore ($1.2 million). Shah was kidnapped two days later. The gang demanded ₹10 lakh ($15,000) from his family members," the deputy commissioner said in a statement. The price of digital currency bitcoin fluctuates daily, which likely explains the difference in exchange rate.

Police said officers were alerted to the scheme after a 20-minute chase resulted in the arrest of a suspect who was seen carrying a pistol in Bhakrota, which is a residential area in Jaipur. The man told officers about the kidnapping and gave up the location of the apartment building.

India-based media outlet NDTV reported that the cryptocurrency traders had been lured into the region by gang members who claimed to be selling bitcoins at a low price.

"[The gang] wanted to extort money from the trio. They held them hostage in the flat and had threatened to kill them if the demands were not met," NDTV quoted Sharma as saying. "Not even their family members were aware of the abduction. The victims had lost all hope because they had no access to anyone." Police said they seized guns and SUVs from the criminals.

The suspects were identified by local media as Jitendra Kumar, 21, Deepak Kumar, 22, Anupam Soni, 19, Pawan Kumar, 20, Bhawani Singh, 19, Lokendra Singh, 24 and Rahul Kumar, 19. Lokendra Singh is from Rajasthan and the others are originally from Haryana.

As reported by The Next Web, it's not the first time cryptocurrency traders have been targeted by extortion gangs. In January this year, it emerged that police in South Africa had arrested two suspects who allegedly kidnapped a 13-year-old boy and demanded bitcoins from his parents. He was safely returned to his family, local media outlet Times Live reported. The pair were caught after attempting to kidnap a teenage girl.

A visual representation of the digital cryptocurrency, Bitcoin on May 3, 2018. Matthew Horwood/Getty