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SWATing

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SWATing (sometimes written as swatting) is a type of false police call in which the perpetrator tries to trick the police into sending a heavily armed response unit, such as the SWATWikipedia's W.svg (Special Weapons and Tactics) team, to the victim's address.

This type of action is most common and most viable in the United States, where the police are heavily militarized. SWATing is usually related to online harassment as it relies on the victim having already been subject to doxxing - the public distribution of personal information such as their home address. SWATing is also a major problem for police departments as it wastes money and departmental resources intended for genuine emergency calls.

In August 2015 Oxford Dictionaries added SWATing to its online dictionaries.[1]

Overview[edit]

A SWATing generally begins with the perpetrator using a spoofed phone number, or in more recent years VoIP, to place a phone call to the victim's local police precinct. The call is not made to emergency services as they always track phone calls. The caller alleges that a violent crime has happened at the victim's home address, generally a bomb threat or a murder, such that the heavily armed SWAT team is sent to handle the situation. Usually, the intent is for the victim to be psychologically intimidated, but there is also the very real possibility that the police could physically harm the victim in making the arrest and it is likely that the victim can be shot.

Prominent events[edit]

While people from all walks of life have been affected by SWATing, including CNN political commentator Erick Erickson[2] and California State Senator Ted Lieu,[3] who was himself pushing legislation against SWATing due to the number of celebrities affected by the phenomenon,[4] it seems to predominate within the video game community. Multiple cases of SWATing in the United States and Canada seem to involve teenagers and video games in some fashion:

  • Nathan Hanshaw was arrested by the FBI in 2013 for having used spoofed phone numbers to make a hoax call on a former acquaintance and video game player living in a hotel.[5]
  • An unnamed 16-year-old Ottawa teenager was arrested in 2014 and charged with 60 counts of criminal actions by Canadian authorities after he had made at least 30 prank calls to police departments throughout Canada and the United States, including several bomb threats.[6][7]
  • An unnamed 17-year-old Coquitlam, British Columbia, teenager was arrested in 2014 and charged with 23 counts of "extortion, public mischief and criminal harassment", over unrequited love for multiple women who were players of League of Legends. He even caused an evacuation of Disneyland's Space Mountain ride due to a bomb threat, in cases completely unrelated to the League of Legends harassment.[8][9][10]
  • Jordan Mathewson, a.k.a. Kootra, was livestreaming a game of Counter-Strike when the SWAT team raided his office and held him at gunpoint live on camera after a false call had been made to the police about an active shooter.[11][12]
  • In 2014, nearly seventy police officers were responded to a possible mass murder after teenager Rafael Castillo won in a Call of Duty match against another player who called in the false report that he had killed his mother and brother and was going to kill others.[13]
  • Wesley Wolfe, a.k.a. "Wolvereness", was victim to a SWATing after he had filed a DMCA takedown against SpigotMC & Craftbukkit (Two popular Minecraft server hosting tools) for pirating his software used to run Minecraft multiplayer servers.[14]
  • An unnamed executive of the video game developer Bungie (Halo series, Destiny) was victim to a SWATing after a hostage situation was called in to local police from a computer call.[15]
  • SWATing has also been prominent within victims of Gamergate's mob, although victims have avoided unnecessary confrontation with the police and wasting of their funds by being proactive and notifying their local departments that they have been targeted online.[16][17][18][19][20]

Outside North America[edit]

SWATing is a largely North American practice due to the police being armed with guns, but there have been instances elsewhere that have been deemed "SWATing" by the local press. Sydney, Australia, resident Mathew McGrath was victim to a SWATing in June 2014,[21] and believed it had something to do with his participation on HackForums, a grayhat hacking website.[22][23] The United Kingdom has also seen SWATing attacks on the owners of parenting website Mumsnet who were being targetted by MRAs.[24]

References[edit]

  1. Press Association, "From bants to manspreading: what's new in the oxforddictionaries.com", The Guardian
  2. Jon Shirek, "9-1-1 hoax snares conservative blogger", 11 Alive
  3. Larry Altman, "Sen. Ted Lieu, author of anti-'swatting' bill, becomes a swatting victim", Daily Breeze
  4. Jeff Black, "California governor signs bill to crack down on celebrity 'swatting'", NBC News
  5. Patrick Healy, "Online Gamer Sentenced in Ventura County "Swatting" Hoax", NBC Southern California
  6. Therese Kehler, "'Swatting' leads to 60 charges against Ottawa boy", Ottawa Citizen
  7. Brian Krebs, "Teen Arrested for 30+ Swattings, Bomb Threats", Krebs On Security
  8. Janis Warren, "Coquitlam teen admits to swatting", Tri-City News
  9. Terry Donnelly and Yvette Brend, "'Swatting' hoax shooting threats in Florida prompts arrest of Coquitlam teen", CBC News
  10. Jennifer Saltman, "Coquitlam teen terrorized women and their families across U.S., Crown says", The Province
  11. Anica Padilla, "Gamer Kootra 'swatted' while livestreaming: Jordan Mathewson talks about how he reacted in the video", 7NEWS Denver
  12. Rose Troup Buchanan, "'Do you think this is funny?' SWAT team turns up at gamer's office in latest 'swatting' prank", The Independent
  13. Kenneth Garger, Bruce Golding and Natalie O'Neill, "Call of Duty loser calls in SWAT team hoax on kid who beat him", New York Post
  14. Craig Hlavaty, "Video game developer, police run afoul of "swatting" hoax", Houston Chronicle
  15. Lindsay Cohen, "Cops surround home of video game exec after high-tech hoax", KOMO News
  16. Brian Weisberg, "Portland Police respond to ‘swatting’ incident", KOIN 6 News
  17. Alex Hern, "Gamergate hits new low with attempts to send Swat teams to critics", The Guardian
  18. "Ashley Lynch terrorized after 'swatting attack'", CBC News
  19. Randi Harper, "Tales from the Trenches: I was SWATed", randi.io
  20. Caroline Sinders, "That time the Internet sent a SWAT team to my mom's house", Boing Boing
  21. Australian Associated Press, "Hackers trick police into dawn raid with elaborate ‘swatting’ hoax", The Guardian
  22. Darren Pauli, "Australia's first public swatting victim a nice bloke", The Register
  23. Ben McClellan, "Stupid hoaxers deserve the SWAT squad after costly police operation", The Daily Telegraph
  24. Leo Keilon, "Mumsnet's co-founder suffers 'swatting attack'", BBC News