SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It looked like an ordinary letter, delivered with all the rest of the mail to Daniel Levinson's San Francisco home.
And so it was a shock when he read the threats that lurked inside.
"It said I had secrets to hide and he knew all about them and if I didn't pay $8,150 in Bitcoin that he was going to tell my wife and all her friends,'' Levinson said.
The letter says, "My name is BlackDoor-82 and I know about the secret you are keeping from your wife and everyone else. More importantly, I have evidence of what you have been hiding. I won't go into specifics here in case your wife intercepts this, but you know what I am talking about."
It threatens to reveal the secrets unless Levinson paid $8,150 in bitcoin. It even included a two-page "how-to" guide for purchasing the digital currency and sending it to the scammer's bitcoin account.
"The implication was that I was having an affair, but the way it was worded it could cover anything, maybe a gambling problem or drugs or alcohol,'' Levinson said.
He and his wife, Nora, have been happily married for almost 25 years. Levinson knew he had nothing to hide. Still the menacing words rattled him.
"It made me glad that I've led a good life and that I've always been true to Nora,'' Levinson said. "But I stopped to think, did I ever do anything that could come back and haunt me? No! I'm OK, I'm OK. You know, I had to reassure myself."
He told Nora about it that very day. At first, she laughed
"Then when I read the letter I actually got angry because there's so many threats in it. People are using the U.S. mails to blackmail people."
If someone told her that her husband was having an affair, or had done some other terrible deed, she said she wouldn't believe it.
"We have a great relationship,'' Nora said. "We're very close. We talk about everything. I don't think there's anything he does that I don't already know about."
The letter is part of a growing scam reported since last November by victims scattered across the country. Some have compared it to the old Ashley Madison scandal when married men using the dating site were threatened with exposure. Others say there appears to be no rhyme, reason or pattern for how the scammers choose their victims or how many perpetrators may be involved.
The letter says, "You don't know me personally and nobody hired me to look into you...It is just your bad luck that I stumbled across your misadventures while working a job around San Francisco. I then put in more time than I probably should have looking into your life."
It goes on to say that the payment is just to cover all the time he spent investigating Levinson.
"It's disturbing but also funny,'' Nora said. "The way he calls himself Blackdoor and says I will be humiliated if I find these things out. That's what made me realize they didn't know anything about him and didn't have anything negative about him."
The letter said "At this point you may be thinking "I'll just go to the cops." Which is why I have taken steps to ensure this letter cannot be traced back to me. So that won't help, and it won't stop the evidence from destroying your life. "
It then goes on to say he has to pay the $8,150 as a "confidentiality fee.'' And it must be anonymously paid in bitcoin. It gives instructions - 19 steps in all for buying and transferring the currency. It even gives tips on how to find a reputable bitcoin dealer - get this - "to avoid getting scammed."
Levinson said the most disturbing aspect of it was that it came in a real letter, to his home address.
"Someone knows my name and where I live,'' he said. "That's unsettling."
"Not knowing how they got our personal address information or why he was picked out of millions to get this letter is a little disturbing,'' Nora added.
The letter threatened to expose his supposed secret to everyone on his street - naming Inverness Drive specifically. In order to neutralize the effects of such a scam, he began reporting it wherever he could.
"I filed a report with the FBI, I told the Postal Service. And I decided to call Michael Finney,'' he said.
He and his wife wanted 7 On Your Side to warn viewers that this letter could pop up in anyone's mailbox.
"Nora felt this was so heinous that it deserves and needs to get out there and for other people to be aware,'' Levinson said. "I knew about Michael Finney and all the things he does to help people."
He said he worries someone out ther will get the letter, and if they do have something to hide, will believe the perpetrators have some evidence to ruin their lives.
The FBI has said the scammers don't really have any dirt on their victims, just betting that some of them will believe they do, and will pay up.
Don't fall for it, Levinson advised.
"It's important that people know about this and when they get something like this they're not scared,'' he said. "And don't do anything that involves really sending money because, it's an honest to God scam."
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