CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer wasn’t even in town when the Montgomery County police surrounded his home in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday evening. The authorities went as far as to set up a perimeter when a call to CNN confirmed that they had been duped by a SWATing plot.
According to Montgomery County Police Captain Paul Starks, someone had used a cell carrier’s emergency relay to send a fake message with Blitzer’s home address. That is the very nature of SWATting — sending a fake 911 call in order to get the authorities to come and investigate a fictionalized situation. Other victims of SWATing hoaxes include Ryan Seacrest, Justin Timberlake, Clint Eastwood, and journalist Brian Krebs. In Krebs’ case, a report that Russians had killed his wife resulted in Krebs being handcuffed with weapons drawn until the call was proven as false.
You are probably starting to see now why this particular brand of pranking is not only malicious, but also dangerous.
In addition to danger, there’s the allocation of police resources and costs that go into these false rescue operations. The concern that falls on every person’s mind dealing with this calls is the possible scenario of an actual emergency occurring, but having full police attention diverted to a fake situation. Even worse, the possibility of a SWAT team blow out that ends in the serious injury of an innocent.
It’s difficult for law officials to pinpoint a source of these isolated incidents since the level of technology of this day and age gives pranksters much to work with in terms of covering their tracks. In addition to emergency relay services available on cell phones, pranksters are also able to use disposable phones.
“We don’t know where these people are. They could be in New Zealand,” Starks said on the matter.
While it is difficult to catch SWATers, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. In 2009, a blind phone hacker was sentenced to 11 years in prison for conspiring with other phone hackers to make hundreds of SWATing calls to authorities, among other convictions. Matthew Weigman is said to be one of them best phone hackers alive.
Although prank calls to emergency services are nothing new, the refinement by which the schemes are gaining is what concerns officials. The influx of famous names being attached to these pranks in 2013 alone speaks on its increasingly popularity.
A technical issues director at a Virginia-based National Emergency Number Association, Roger Hixson, said that there are no solid statistics on SWATing as of present.
Hixson also noted that “it seems like every couple weeks we hear about one [SWATing case] … It’s not a huge problem, but it’s not trivial either.”