Police! Open Up!!

By: Hugo Sanchez *

You’re just relaxing, booting up a game of League of Legends, when you hear those familiar words that you have heard on movies and television but never in real life: “Police! Open Up!” You freeze as officers kick down your door and yell at you to put your hands above your head while pointing weapons. A SWAT team was just dispatched to your location on false information that hostages, drugs, and murder was taking place. This practice of misinforming emergency response teams to false alerts in the gaming community is called swatting.

(http://evolution-of-the-swat-team.wikispaces.com/file/view/swat3.png/428993460/461×315/swat3.png)

(A SWAT team prepares to conduct door to door searches across the street from Baikar Association. (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian, The Armenian Weekly))

According to the FBI, swatting started in 2008. It began as a joke, prank, revenge or just because the swatter is bored and looking for excitement. But law enforcement doesn’t treat these calls as jokes. Emergency response teams are trained to arrive as quickly and safely as possible to make the situation safe. Swatting is also extremely expensive and dangerous – it costs thousands of dollars every time a SWAT team is dispatched. Additionally, precious time and resources are wasted on responding to fake calls. SWAT units could be investigating real crimes and situations but instead are stuck dealing with pranks. It’s also dangerous because highly armed and trained officers burst in homes of unsuspecting innocents who may try to fight what they perceive to be intruders.

Malicious players, who are often many miles away, look up their opponent’s addresses in phone directories, sometimes using services that can find unlisted numbers. They also exploit online programs that trick 911 dispatchers into believing an emergency call is coming from the victim’s phone or address. All the while, they conceal their own identities and locations.

While swatting itself is not a identified offense, it is can be prosecuted through other criminal statutes and is taken very seriously. For example, Matthew Weigman was convicted for 13 years in federal prison on “one count of conspiracy to retaliate against a witness, victim or an informant, and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud and unauthorized access of a protected computer.” Carlton Nalley received nine years in federal prison for his involvement in a swatting conspiracy. His accomplice also pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice.

You may be thinking that they only target high profile people like celebrities or youtubers, but in reality anyone could be a swatting target. Why would someone do that, you may ask? Well, quite frankly, because they can. Maybe they are bored or have a personal vendetta. If you ever are threatened by someone saying that they will swat you, notify local law enforcement authorities immediately so they can be aware of the situation and respond accordingly. The FBI recommends filing a police report, that way if an incident occurs at your home, the police will be aware that it could be a hoax.  Don’t be afraid to talk to an attorney for legal advice or if you’re a SHSU student you can make an appointment to speak with our attorney.

If you have a legal matter that has left you with questions or may even be distracting you from your studies, SLMS is here to help you get back to the important work of your academic career. Call us at 936-294-1717 or email us at slms@shsu.edu to set up and appointment with our attorney.

Links of Swatting Articles:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz8yLIOb2pU

http://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/2012/07/23/swatter%e2%80%99s-rights/

http://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2012/12/victim-of-swatting-heres-what-to-do.html

http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_26544755/gamers-use-swatting-hoax-lash-out-at-opponents

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2683293/fbi-hunting-isisgang-hackers-and-gamers-creating-cops-episodes-by-swatting-other-gamers.html

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