STATESVILLE, N.C. – Local and federal authorities are now investigating a series of bomb threats at the Statesville and Charlotte Walmart stores this week.
On Friday, investigators said they believe the incident may be part of a “national trend," a possible scam directed at the retail giant to extort money from the company.
Police first responded to the Statesville location at the 1100 block of Crossroads Drive around 7 p.m. Tuesday. The threat forced the evacuation of customers and employees.
Police say the threat was called into the store by a man with a foreign accent who spoke broken English..
The perpetrator said he placed a bomb in the store and demanded $1,000 loaded onto two pre-paid cards, and the serial numbers to each card.
The K-9 bomb detection team was brought in, but did not find anything suspicious inside. A caller made the same threat with similar demands on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday night.
“Walmart is a safe place to shop and work, and we have significant safeguards in place to respond to emergency situations, including bomb threats,” said Betsy Hardin of Walmart.
“We take any threats to the safety of our customers and associates very seriously, and we notify police anytime a facility receives a bomb threat. We are working closely with police to provide any information we can to help them identify the person or persons responsible,” she said.
Former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker describes his first reaction to the scheme as “amateurish.”
“They are not asking for much money. This has all the earmarks of some sort of scam, Nigerian 419 scam, some sort of eastern European extortion scam that has been running around for the last eight or 10 years,” he said.
Making such a threat is punishable up to 10 years in federal prison.
Swecker says the frequency of these threats may help investigators crack the case soon.
"The number of instances that are occurring, gives the police more instances to look at and vector in on individuals,” he said.
Swecker says in this digital age, pre-paid card are traceable, and if used, the perpetrators can be captured on surveillance cameras.
One major task is to determine if this is an “inside-job,” a “copycat,” or an organized effort.
"There is a distinct possibility that there is some sort of call to action against Walmart in the dark web. That is why it is showing up in so many jurisdictions across the country. There may be some activism involved or maybe somebody is mad at Walmart, and they are enlisting helpers," he said.