There is a new and potentially deadly form of prank phone call emerging in the U.S. these days called “swatting.” The nefarious practice is so new that most people have not heard of it and description of it are only just now beginning to appear widely on the Internet like the new Wikipedia entry that says “Swatting is an attempt to trick an emergency service (such as a 9-1-1 dispatcher) into dispatching an emergency response team. The name is derived from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), one type of such team. Such action places law enforcement and citizens at risk and are criminal actions. In addition it reduces law enforcement officer (LEO) coverage and costs taxpayer money.”
Swatting is now appearing in news reports as some Internet bloggers say they are being terrorized by the prank calls that bring a wave of armed police to their doors in search of fake criminals, in retaliation for their blog posts. Most recently, two conservative Internet bloggers reported being victims and in one of the incidents, the caller claimed to be the resident of the home and confessed to shooting his wife. Naturally, that call brought an instant and potentially deadly swarm of police to the home in a totally erroneous response.
That victim was Patrick Frey, a deputy district attorney at Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, who runs a blog called Patterico’s Pontifications that apparently rubbed someone the wrong way. The other incident involved Erick Erickson of Macon, Georgia who runs the Red State blog. After an anonymous caller reported “I shot her, my wife” to 911 dispatchers, Erickson’s home was raided, police ordered him at gunpoint to get outside, and then handcuffed him until completing a search that revealed his wife and children were actually safe inside.
In both incidents, authorities now have suspects they are looking at, but the cases may be hard to prove in court and the incidents of “swatting” appear to be on the rise nationally. Tricking the authorities into responding to an address with a SWAT team to an emergency that doesn’t exist is a frightening, costly, and potentially deadly form of crime that starts with a phone call. It would certainly be nice if the FBI could simply employ a reverse lookup phone number search to discover the identities of the swatting callers, but it doesn’t look like solving this new form of telephone crime will be quite as easy as that.