What is swatting?

Swatting is when a bad actor makes a hoax call to an emergency number to send law enforcement (like a SWAT team) to your home.

Picture this: you’re sitting in front of your video game console one late evening, playing a hot new title and minding your own business, when you hear a cacophony of police sirens in the background. Paying no heed, you continue to tap your gamepad’s buttons until you notice the sirens growing louder. You pause your game, wondering if there’s trouble in your neighborhood. Glancing at the window, you notice red and blue lights filling the dark sky. Suddenly, there’s a loud knock on the door.

Still wearing your pajamas, you head to the door, gamepad in hand. The knocking grows louder. Heart beating, you open the door, only to see dozens of heavily armed police officers training their deadly weapons on you. You gasp, realizing one wrong move could be your last.

What are doxxing and swatting?

Doxxing and swatting are two dangerous yet different types of pranks. Doxxing is a type of cyberbullying where someone uncovers and posts your private information on the Internet, sometimes leading to swatting. Meanwhile, swatting is when a bad actor makes a hoax call to an emergency number in order to send heavily armed law enforcement to your home like a SWAT team. Swatters may report a fake bomb threat, hostage situation, terrorism activity, or murder to trigger the prank.

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 examples

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.

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. You can read about how to stop doxing to prevent someone from gathering your identifiable information.

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.

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