SWATTING – It’s Not a Game and It’s Not a Joke

An Extra Layer of Protection

These steps may also help reduce risks of becoming a target of swatting

The More You Know

Swatting incidents have increased in frequency over the past several years. Swatting, a popular harassment tactic, is commonly used by “gamers” to create a dangerous hoax situation and a risky collision between the real world of law enforcement and in most cases, the virtual world of live-streaming video gaming.

Typically a swatting incident unfolds, after the perpetrator notifies a 9-1-1 service provider reporting an emergency situation. It is then that police services and the target of the hoax, are drawn into a risky life-or-death reality game. In some instances, the target of the swatting is known to the perpetrator, however in some cases, the target is totally selected at random and there is no known connection between the two. This was actually the case in late 2017 in Wichita, Kansas, when the hoax was not discovered before the police arrived at the home of an innocent man. Police had been called to a false report of a shooting and a hostage-taking incident at the home, the victim unfortunately had no idea that he was the target of a prank call. The target was fatally shot by police in the ensuing confrontation.

This incident shows beyond a doubt, how unpredictable and how dangerous swatting incidents can become for responding officers and for the public at large. In general, when 9-1-1 calls are made, communication officers take the information from the complainant at face-value. They then commence to verify details while police officers begin responding. They might check a variety of police information systems locally, nationally and internationally and in particular, they might gather valuable open source intelligence from locations like social media. They might check GPS data, photos and video, and in all likelihood, conduct background searches on the residence, phone records and any people connected to the incident. Despite investigating all of these channels of information, police still might not realize before arriving, that they are responding to a hoax. It is this detail, that makes swatting situations even more risky for everyone involved.

Many people wonder what motivates swatters to make false reports to police. Experts suggest that they might be motivated by hostility, jealousy, or a grudge against another person in a “game” who possesses more power, skill, credits or favourable position over another person. The intent could also be an adrenalin rush, as the Internet offers an enormous platform to capture video of a real-life police takedown. In fact on YouTube, many swatting videos have been uploaded and some attract thousands and millions of views.

Certainly the global nature of the Internet makes investigating swatting very challenging for law enforcement. Police in California however, identified a 28-year-old man that they believe was responsible for the shooting incident in Kansas. They charged him with manslaughter. The Calgary Police Service also substantiated criminal charges also against this same individual as they believe he swatted in Calgary around the same time as the incident in Kansas.

Gaming platforms regularly take action against swatters and/or anyone attempting to scam or harass their players. Gamers are encouraged to report malicious or harassing behaviours to the gaming platform, so that offenders can be flagged and banned. These steps may also help reduce risks of becoming a target of swatting:

-Leave the server room or gaming platform if a problem arises amongst players or if tempers start to flare.

-Listen to your intuition and take appropriate action if/when other gamers become emotional with you or want you to become emotional with them.

-Watch for old-fashioned tricks or stories enticing you to send money and/or personal identifying information.

-Be skeptical of web-links, files or emails from others requesting you open or forward the untrusted/unverified subject matter.

-Never disclose an address, city, real name or cellphone number to others especially when live-streaming games.

-Patch and update computer application software. Keep your computer security up-to-date.

-Configure your web browser(s) securely.

-Segment valuable files, identify where sensitive data is located and back up any important personal or financial data to reduce your risk if hacked or hit by malware.

-Take steps to hide your IP address to make your online communication more anonymous.

-Verify gaming websites and servers before playing and check the feedback of other users.

-Use two-factor authentication when available on all your registered accounts.

-Be selective when placing your credit card data on file with any organization.

-Talk to your children about the dangers of swatting.
If for some reason, you believe there is strong chance that you may be a potential target for a swatting incident, be proactive and report this to the gaming platform or consider contacting your local police department to explain the situation to them.

Anytime you are involved with the police, whether it is an emergency or non-emergency situation, comply with police orders and, only when it is safe to do so, fully explain your side of the story if you believe you are the target of a swatting incident.