'Swatting' is a dangerous new trend, as pranksters call a SWAT team on an unsuspecting victim while the internet watches
Imagine you're at home playing a video game, broadcasting your gameplay online for your followers to watch on the video-streaming site Twitch. Without warning, the door to your room is busted open and SWAT officers are screaming at you to put your hands up and get on the ground — all while thousands of people online get a front-row seat to the action thanks to your computer's webcam.
This is what happens during a "swatting," an increasingly popular internet prank in which cybercriminals call in a serious crime — such as a hostage situation or shooter on the loose — in the hopes of unleashing a SWAT team on an unsuspecting person.
Rapper Lil Wayne was recently the victim of a swatting attempt after the police received a phone call reporting that four people had been shot inside his Miami home. The police responded but later clarified that it was a hoax.
Cybercriminals can use a variety of technical tricks to mask their identities or to make it appear as if the prank call to police originated at the residence of the unsuspecting victim. Police, with no other choice than to react to the severity of the crime being described, often send out SWAT teams, bomb squads, and other emergency services such as fire trucks and ambulances.
"Uh oh, this isn't good," a gamer named Jordan Mathewson, who streams on Twitch under the name "Kootra," said to the camera during a live stream. "They're clearing rooms. What in the world? I think we're getting swatted."
Police stormed in within seconds, and Mathewson was handcuffed, searched, and questioned.
You can watch the entire ordeal below.
The police released Mathewson from custody after realizing they had been duped, but it is hardly a harmless prank. Taxpayer dollars are wasted when the police respond to hoaxes, and the buildings, including schools, near Mathewson's address were placed on lockdown because of the threat.
While most swatting attempts target gamers who broadcast their gameplay on live-streaming services such as Twitch, celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber have all been "swatted" as well.
But swatting celebrities does not allow the public to watch the events play out in real time, and that is part of the reason gamers with thousands of spectators are attractive targets.
If one of the spectators of a streaming session becomes annoyed (or even bored) with the person streaming, the anonymous viewer can try to dig up identifying information on the address of the streamer, usually by capturing the IP address of the person's computer.
If caught, those responsible for a swatting attack can face up to five years in prison. Brandon Wilson, 19, known as "Famed God" online, was recently arrested by the FBI for a swatting attempt, and he is being charged with two counts of computer tampering and one count each of intimidation, computer fraud, identity theft, and disorderly conduct.
For now, gamers are doing everything they can to ensure they do not leak any information on their location or identity to their Twitch spectators. The FBI has been aware of swatting since 2008, but the police can do little other than respond appropriately when they receive such a serious call.
To get a sense of exactly how terrifying it can be to get swatted, you can watch one of the many swatting compilations below (just a heads up: there's some strong language).
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