Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Swatting makes it debut on CSI Miami

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2008 at 5:04 AM

David%20Caruso.jpg
Okay, so David Caruso is way cooler than us. Especially when he's wearing sunglasses. But we knew about swatting before he did. So there.
When we first reported in January about a new troubling phone prank known as “swatting,” the trend was so new it wasn’t even on Wikipedia yet. As we wrote back then, swatting was started by a group of “frenemies” who participated in a phone chat room. To prove their superiority, they would play practical jokes on each other. At first, the pranks were silly, such as calling in fake pizza orders for their enemies. When that got tiresome, a chat line participant figured out a way to get people’s water and electricity shut off. Soon, people were going whole weekends without air or heat. But four years ago, the pranks grew dangerous… That’s when spoof cards arrived on the market. These phone cards allowed users to change the number that would show up on someone else's caller ID. They weren't meant to be used nefariously, but rather as a business tool. An executive working from home could use the card to make it appear he was calling from his office, for instance. But in the hands of these chat line participants, they became the vehicle for the new prank known as swatting. People in the group would choose a target. Then someone would buy a spoof card, input the victim's phone number, and call 911 with a fabricated story. "My name is X," he might say. "I've just murdered my sister, and now I've got a hunting rifle aimed at my wife. If you don't hand over a million dollars, I'm going to go on a killing rampage." Then he'd hang up. Police would naturally trace the call to the victim's phone. Roads were closed. SWAT teams broke down doors (hence the name “swatting”). And innocent people suddenly found themselves with guns pointed at their heads. Four months after the article appeared, the FBI has started a training program to teach officers how to weed out fake calls. And Monday night it became the subject of a CSI Miami episode. At the start of the show, a phone call is placed to Miami’s 911 services. A woman is heard screaming that a man is at her home; he’s already shot several family members. 911 traces the call. SWAT team members break down the door. They find a man holding a knife and shoot him three times in the chest. Only later do agents realize the call was a spoof. Oops. In real life, no victims have been killed … yet. But since the CSI episode, you can be sure we will be seeing copycat swatting episodes on other police dramas in the upcoming months. In real life, the main pranksters are all in federal prison in Texas. – Rebecca Meiser

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