Have you ever heard the term swatting? It doesn’t sound like a very serious occupation until you learn that it refers to a police SWAT team.
Swatting is the dangerous and illegal practice of making a false emergency call to elicit rapid police response at someone else’s residence. Usually, these extreme prank callers report something imminently violent, like an active shooter, hostage, or bomb situation.
Ann Arbor, Michigan area police are investigating two incidents that happened recently. One caller identified himself as the 17-year-old who lived in the Ypsilanti residence that was targeted, saying he had shot his mother.
The other home in Superior Township was surrounded by police who had been told the caller admitted to accidentally shooting his parents when they walked in on him making a bomb in his room.
Police discovered what had likely happened after speaking to the families, and they are still investigating.
Swatting on the Rise
These are not isolated incidents. They are just the most recent in a disturbing trend that goes back before 2012. That year, Gov. Rick Snyder passed a law making swatting a felony in some cases and intensifying criminal penalties for those caught making false emergency reports.
Many states have cracked down on this behavior just as Michigan did after a 2011 incident in Troy, where police rushed to a house with every available unit after reports of an active gunman that turned out to be false. The perpetrator was suspected to be an online gamer in Boston.
Celebrities such as Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, and Rihanna have been targeted by “swatters,” and – perhaps more disturbingly still – journalist Brian Krebs has been targeted numerous times as retaliation for his reporting on cybersecurity.
One swatter attempted to have Krebs framed by having heroin delivered to his house before calling the police.
How Swatters Work and What to Avoid
Aside from the celebrities and journalist victims, most perpetrators and victims of swatting are online gamers who play games like Call of Duty, Counter Strike, and DOTA, which have a chat function as part of the play.
Perpetrators engage in social engineering or “doxing” or “doxxing” – both ways to obtain the personal identity, phone number, and address of someone else to disrupt their privacy.
Swatters consider this behavior an elaborate prank. However, it has resulted in real-world consequences. It ties up emergency responders who could be responding to a real emergency. It also endangers people on the road when responders have to rush to a scene. Police have been shot at swatting events. In one case, the victim of a swatting “prank” was shot by police officers.
It’s challenging to catch swatters in action because they use caller ID spoofing software to make it look like the call is coming from a local number. They could be calling from anywhere in the world.
Online gamers need to be especially vigilant.
- If you are an online gamer, don’t use a screen name that could help to identify you in real life.
- Do not divulge any personal information to anyone online, even details such as the state or country you live in.
- Be aware that there are people out there trying to get that information all the time.
- Consider using a VPN service to hide your IP address.
Consequences for Swatting in Michigan
- Simply for making a false report of an emergency, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $10,000. Lawmakers have estimated that is what it costs the police department to respond to a crisis like this.
- If your false report results in an injury, that call is a felony.
- If someone dies because of your false information, you could spend 15 years in prison, pay up to a $50,000 fine, or both.
Cybercriminals that make “prank” calls cause terrible ramifications. Swatting is not a prank, however. It’s potentially a felony, and if you’re caught, your life could be ruined.
If you are an online gamer, you can never be too careful. Protect yourself and your family by assuming your personal information will get stolen if you’re not careful.
Are being invested for a crime in Michigan? Having an experienced criminal attorney by your side will help you get the best possible outcome in your case.