What is swatting?
Swatting is dangerous illegal prank, when a bad actor makes a hoax call to an emergency number in order to send heavily armed law enforcement to a certain location – such as a school, shopping mall or the airport. A SWAT team – for no serious reason – hence, the name. Swatters may report a fake bomb threat, hostage situation, terrorism activity, or murder to trigger the prank. Swatting threats are typically made anonymously or through false identities.
Swatting has become a growing problem in recent years, with many high-profile cases of swatting resulting in injury, property damage, and even death. In addition to the harm it can cause to innocent victims, swatting also wastes valuable resources and puts law enforcement officers at risk. In response to this issue, many states and countries have passed laws specifically criminalizing swatting, and law enforcement agencies have been working to increase awareness of the dangers of swatting and develop protocols to respond to swatting incidents in a safe and effective manner.
It is important to be educated about the seriousness and potential consequences of swatting, and to discourage this dangerous behavior.
How is swatting possible?
Swatting is typically carried out through the use of anonymous phone calls or online messages, using technologies that allow the perpetrator to mask their identity and location. There are several ways in which swatting can be made possible:
- Spoofing: The perpetrator can use a technique called “spoofing” to disguise their phone number or email address, making it appear as though the call or message is coming from a different location or person. This can make it more difficult for law enforcement to trace the source of the swatting threat.
- Hacking: In some cases, the perpetrator may gain access to the targeted individual’s personal information or online accounts, allowing them to make more convincing swatting threats or otherwise harass the victim.
- Social engineering: Swatters may use social engineering tactics to gather information about the victim or their location, using this information to make the swatting threat more convincing or to increase the likelihood of a law enforcement response.
- Collaboration: Some swatters may collaborate with others in order to carry out a swatting incident, such as by sharing information or coordinating the timing of the false report.
Overall, swatting is made possible through a combination of technological and social factors, and is often carried out by individuals with malicious intent and a desire to cause harm or disruption.
Is swatting illegal?
Yes, swatting is illegal. Making a false report of a serious crime is a criminal offense, and can result in charges of making a false report, false alarm, or other related crimes. Swatting can also lead to charges of harassment, endangerment, or other criminal offenses depending on the specific circumstances of the incident.
What are the consequences of swatting? What happens to swatters?
Some of the potential consequences of making a swatting call may include:
- Criminal charges: Making a false report of a serious crime is a criminal offense and can result in charges such as making a false report, false alarm, or other related crimes.
- Civil lawsuits: Swatting can result in civil lawsuits for damages caused by the law enforcement response or other related harm, such as property damage or emotional distress.
- Law enforcement response: Swatting can trigger a large-scale law enforcement response, including SWAT teams, bomb squads, and other specialized units. This can put innocent individuals at risk and waste valuable law enforcement resources.
- Injury or death: Swatting incidents have resulted in injury or death, either from the law enforcement response or from the targeted individual defending themselves against perceived threats.
- Reputation damage: Swatting can lead to significant reputation damage for the perpetrator, including public scrutiny and potential job loss.
Overall, the consequences of making a swatting call can be severe and long-lasting, and can have a significant impact on the lives of both the perpetrator and innocent individuals involved.
When did swatting start?
Swatting has been around since the early 2000s. According to the FBI, between 2002 and 2006, there were more than 100 victims of swatting in 60 cities across the United States. The Bureau officially warned the public about swatting in 2008 as attacks grew.
How swatting works
Swatting is as simple as it can be deadly. The attacker learns your home address by using various techniques. Next, they hide or spoof their caller ID before calling the police with a fake report that provokes a potentially lethal emergency response.
Swatting can have tragic consequences. For example, in 2017, police killed 28-year-old Andrew Thomas Finch after a swatting call. The caller, Tyler Barriss, started the hoax over a dispute in an online Call of Duty game. In a sad twist, he had given police the wrong address, and Finch wasn’t his actual target.
In another instance, a victim suffered a swatting-induced heart attack after the attacker took their address from Discord. One of the participants in the attack, 18-year-old Tennessee man Shane Sonderman, found himself in prison for 60 months for posting the victim’s address on the communication platform.
Although the prank typically targets the gaming community, media organizations and even law enforcement agencies are also targets of the prank. Celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Clint Eastwood, and Chris Brown, and Twitch stars are also targets of swatting calls.
Do streamers get swatted?
Twitch streamers are regular swatting targets, especially the high-profile ones. For example, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf, known in esports as Bugha, was live-streaming Fortnite when he suddenly left the screen to the curiosity of his viewers. The Fortnite World Champion later returned to explain that a SWAT team showed up at his house with guns. The situation was diffused because one of the responding officers was from his neighborhood and recognized him.
The question “Why are streamers swatted?” has multiple theories. For one, swatting seems to occur more often in the gaming community. Streamers also appear live to their followers for many hours of the day every week, allowing swatters to see the consequences of their pranks firsthand and draw a sick thrill.
How to stop swatting
It’s critical to stay calm and cooperate with the authorities to clear any misunderstandings if you’re the victim of swatting. You can also report any swatting threats to the police or where it’s available, use your local enforcement department’s opt-in registry system to help prevent swatting. Officers sent to people on the registry system will be warned by their dispatch that the emergency call could be a prank.
How to protect yourself from swatting
Unfortunately, anyone can be a subject to a swatting attack. However, keep in mind that individual homes are less likely to be targeted by swatters. These criminals are more inclined to create a higher level triggers and typically target popular areas where a lot of people can be affected – such as schools, shopping malls, airports, government buildings, hospitals and other high profile locations.
There have been reports of fake 9-1-1 calls to send law enforcement to private homes. Always be cautious about sharing your personal information, especially your full name, address and even a phone number.
Protect your privacy
Make it harder for bad actors to uncover your address by using a separate name for your streamer identity. Ensure that your address doesn’t appear on online public spaces like social media pages or message boards and refrain from trusting people online with your data. Read more about doxxing and how to prevent it here.
Hide your IP address
Although your IP address won’t usually give an actor your exact home address, it can help them in their investigation for your sensitive information. Fortunately, you can mask your IP address with a virtual IP address through a VPN service. Of course, many gamers and streamers hesitate to use VPNs because of performance concerns. To choose the best VPN for gamers, find a fast service with many servers that barely impacts your upload and download speeds while shielding your privacy.
Be wary of social engineering attacks
Threat actors can use social engineering tactics such as phishing emails to trick you into providing your home address or installing malicious software. Software like spyware, stalkerware, and keyloggers can send your confidential information to its author to help them learn your geographical location. Train yourself to spot phishing and other types of social engineering techniques and consider using a free spyware removal tool to scan your system for privacy-invading malware.
What is swatting?
Swatting is an illegal activity which can also be characterized as cyber harassment and is basically a hoax call about a very serious threat - such as a bomb threat, armed intruder or a terrorism attack which prompts a law enforcement response.
What are swatting threats?
Swatting threats are false reports of serious crimes that are made with the intention of triggering a SWAT team or other law enforcement response. Swatting threats are typically made anonymously or through false identities, and may involve claims of hostage situations, bomb threats, active shooters, or other dangerous situations.