Banks face bioterrorism hoaxes

Threatening letters containing powdery substances target banks and federal agencies, FBI says.

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By Terry Frieden, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The number of banks and other agencies reporting threatening hoax letters containing a powdery substance has grown to nearly four dozen institutions in 11 states and the District of Columbia, the FBI said Wednesday.

The 45-plus cases are an increase from the 30 in eight states known as of Tuesday. The FBI, U.S. postal inspectors and state and local authorities are investigating, resulting in what FBI spokesman Richard Kolko called "a drain on resources" for those agencies.

"Even sending a hoax letter is a serious crime and law enforcement will continue to work to identify and arrest those responsible," Kolko said in a written statement. "The FBI and our law enforcement partners are following up on numerous leads and if anyone has information they are requested to contact the FBI, USPIS or local authorities."

Postal inspectors offered a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the conviction of those behind the hoax letters, which they said were mailed late last week.

As of Tuesday, financial institutions in New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas had been targeted by the letters. On Wednesday, that list had grown to include Virginia, California and Arizona, the FBI reported.

Kolko said field tests on the powder included in the letters have found no sign of a hazardous material, but additional tests were being conducted.

The letters contained a message of anger concerning the "banking situation," one law enforcement official told CNN. The official refused to speak on the record because the investigation is ongoing.

The official said most of the letters have been sent to branches of JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500).

Two other officials said that all the letters were postmarked in Amarillo, Texas. And not all of the recipients were banks, officials said. Letters were also sent to the offices of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of Thrift Supervision, federal agencies that oversee financial institutions. To top of page

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