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FBI warns emergency 911 swatters are a growing menace

By Layer 8 on Tue, 02/05/08 - 11:35am.

The FBI today said today there has been a significant increase in the illegal activity know as “swatting” where criminals and pranksters call in a fake 911 in hopes of drawing a response from law enforcement—usually a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT)  team.  

The US Department of Justice says swatters also  make other false reports to elicit an emergency response by other first responders, such as adult protective services, to a specific physical address. In addition, swatters typically spoof   phone numbers to conceal their identity.   

Swatters often tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off. The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies. And the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves, the FBI said in a statement. 

The FBI said it has arrested five swatters who, between 2002 and 2006, called 911 in more than 60 cities nationwide, impacting more than 100 victims, causing a disruption of services for telecommunications providers and emergency responders, and resulting in up to $250,000 in losses.  Swats that the group committed included using bomb threats at sporting events, causing the events to be delayed; claiming that hotel visitors were armed and dangerous, causing an evacuation of the entire hotel; and making threats against public parks and officials, the FBI stated. 

Last year, for example, a 19-year-old Washington state man was charged by California authorities after pretending to be calling from the home of a married California couple, saying he had just shot and murdered someone. A local SWAT team arrived on the scene, and the husband, who had been asleep in his home with his wife and two young children, heard something and went outside to investigate—after first stopping in the kitchen to pick up a knife. What he found was a group of SWAT assault rifles aimed directly at him.

Fortunately, the situation didn’t escalate, and no one was injured, the FBI reported. 

In another case a Washington State teenager could get 18 years in prison on charges that he used his PC to access Orange County, California's 911 emergency response system and convinced the sheriff's department into storming an area couple's home with a heavily armed SWAT team. The DOJ prosecuted a swatter last fall it said involved a swatting conspiracy that involved more than 100 victims, up to $250,000 in losses, and disruption of services for telecommunications providers and emergency responders.   

Why did they do it? Said Kevin Kolbye, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Dallas office: "Individuals did it for the bragging rights and ego, versus any monetary gain." Basically, they did it because they could.  

Too bad victims can’t return the favor. 

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