911 fraudsters provoke, endanger public, law officers

It has been a year since the FBI brought the problem to the public's attention but it continues to plague: there has and continues to be 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.

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, according to the FBI.

And according to an Associated Press report today, budget-strapped 911 centers are essentially defenseless without an overhaul of their computer systems.

In the AP story, Gary Allen, editor of Dispatch Monthly said dispatchers are "totally at the mercy of the people who call" and the fact they don't have technology to identify which incoming calls are from Internet-based sources. Allen said upgrading the communications centers' computers to flash an Internet caller's IP address could be helpful in thwarting fraudulent calls. He told the AP an even simpler fix, tweaking the computers to identify calls from Internet telephone services and flash the name of the service provider to dispatchers, can cost under $5,000, but is usually still too costly for many communications centers.

While the problem is growing there have been some successful prosecutions of a few of the dirtbags.

  • Matthew Weigman, 18, last week pled guilty in federal court, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney, to a two-count superseding information relating to his involvement in a swatting conspiracy, announced acting U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas. Weigman, of Revere, Massachusetts, has been in federal custody since his arrest in Boston in May 2008 on related charges outlined in a criminal complaint. According to documents filed in the case, Matthew Weigman is blind. Specifically, Weigman, a/k/a "Little Hacker" and "Hacker," pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, victim or an informant, and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud and unauthorized access of a protected computer. While Weigman acknowledged that he fully understands that the actual sentence imposed is solely the discretion of the Court, the government and Weigman have agreed that a specific sentence of not more than 156 months (13 years) incarceration is the appropriate sentence in this case. Weigman is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn on April 24, 2009.
  • Stuart Rosoff, Jason Trowbridge and Chad Ward, the lead defendants in a swatting conspiracy that involved more than 250 victims, up to $250,000 in losses, and disruption of services for telecommunications providers and emergency responders, have each been sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle to 60 months in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper of the Northern District of Texas. Rosoff, a/k/a "Michael Knight," of Cleveland, Ohio, was sentenced today. He pled guilty in November 2007, to one count of conspiracy to use access devices to modify telecommunications instruments and to access protected telecommunications computers. He has been in custody since his arrest in June 2007, when he, and three co-defendants, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Dallas. All of the defendants have pled guilty to their roles in the conspiracy.
  • Guadalupe Martinez, a defendant in a swatting conspiracy that involved more than 250 victims, up to $250,000 in losses, and disruption of services for telecommunications providers and emergency responders, was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $24,706.73. Martinez, 32, of Washington, pled guilty in April 2007 to conspiring with others to commit access device fraud and unauthorized access to protected computers.
  • The teenage hacker known as "Dshocker," pled guilty in November to computer intrusion, interstate threats, and wire fraud, stemming from nefarious hacking, botnet and swatting actions. Since he is a juvenile, he was not publicly named unfortunately. But Dshocker was more than a swatter. At the hearing, the prosecutor told the US District Court that had the case proceeded to trial, the government would have proven that, from 2005-2008, Dshocker hacked into multiple corporate computer systems Charter Communications, Comcast and Road Runner, and took command of thousands of other computers in a botnet directing them to perform cyberattacks on victim computer servers; and made fraudulent credit card purchases with stolen credit cards, the DOJ stated. While the defendant plead guilty , a plea agreement will send the swatter to a juvenile detention facility for 11-months. Had he been tried as an adult, he would have faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, to be followed by 5 years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution, the DOJ said.

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