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Teenagers do some really silly things sometimes. From neknominating to beezin to bubbling, the list of stupid, dangerous trends in vogue seems to change with each season. The latest trend, however, isn't just silly, it's likely to get someone killed. It's called "swatting" and is probably the most dangerous craze yet.
The F.B.I. defines swatting as "making a hoax call to 9-1-1 to draw a response from law enforcement, specifically a SWAT team." The term swatting comes from the acronym S.W.A.T. — Special Weapons and Tactics — designating the tactical response team employed by most larger police agencies. What distinguishes a swatting hoax from other emergency response pranks is the hoaxer will intentionally describe an ongoing critical situation which would typically trigger a SWAT response from law enforcement.
How do they do it?
Swatters tend to be within the online gaming community, although not all are. Typically they will use various phone techniques to trick emergency call takers into believing the call is originating from within the victim's home. The most common technique is to "spoof" the victim's phone, a process by which they can falsify the telephone number and name displayed on the incoming caller ID. Use of a Skype number or Google Voice number are other ways swatters can fool law enforcement and provide a victim's address as the response location.
Typically swatters will describe an active shooter situation — either a shooting in progress or a single shooting with the expectation of additional victims — or a hostage situation, although other criteria exists for SWAT response.
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The potential harm
Swatting is dangerous for a number of reasons. First, emergency response personnel could be injured as they rush to respond to what they believe to be a high-priority call for service. Second, unsuspecting home owners could be harmed should they not comply with police requests, unaware of the severity of what the police believe is going on. Third, there have already been incidences of elderly swatting victims suffering mild heart attacks when they are caught by surprise by the intense police response to their home.
Additionally, swatting results in an enormous expense to the victim's community. SWAT team responses can cost thousands of dollars in personnel pay, a cost rarely recovered.
On the rise
Within the past year swatting has made the news, with celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise and Justin Bieber being victims of "celebrity swatting." In May of 2014, a 16-year-old Ottawa, Canada, boy was arrested for 30 separate swatting incidences throughout North America. Just within the past few months swatting has been reported in Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
What to do if you are swatted
The FBI recommends families take swatting seriously. If someone is threatened during online game play with a swatting, a police report should be filed alerting local law enforcement to the potential for a hoax at your home. Ideally parents should supervise their children while gaming, to monitor conversations. And if you are the victim of a swatting, comply with all police requests immediately, to allow everyone to resolve the incident as quickly and safely as possible.