A phenomenon called swatting is sweeping the country, and while those behind the hoax say it’s a harmless prank, law enforcement is worried the prank could get someone killed.
It’s a case where the fantasy world of video gaming collides with real life.
Swatting started in the gaming community, with gamers playing live in front of huge online audiences. A rival gamer would call 911, reporting a fake murder or bomb threat, triggering SWAT to raid the house. And it’s all streamed live over the internet.
It’s happened countless times, across the United States.
“We got a knock on the door,” said Hector Rodriguez, the owner of Optic Gaming, a competitive gaming company. “It wasn’t even a knock on the door. It was a banging on the door. Little did we know it was the cops. They pushed the door open and told everyone to get on the ground, guns pointing.”
Rodriguez says in the gaming world, his players are equivalent to professional athletes – earning huge salaries and legions of loyal fans, making them targets of swatting.
“I think it’s just a prank to be honest, but just like anything else you sometimes have pranks that go really wrong,” he said.
Prank or no prank, a Las Vegas man is facing serious charges after allegedly swatting a Naperville teen.
Brandon Willson goes by the online name Famed God. But the gamer has found an unusual sort of fame after being arrested for swatting.
According to an indictment, Wilson used a computer to contact 911 and report a fake murder at a Naperville home, prompting SWAT to respond.
”The people that are involved in this, they are all very sophisticated at using computers, at swatting at hacking,” said Willson’s attorney Steven Greenberg.
Greenberg says his client was targeted before and believes Wilson was paying back the prank.
“My client is a victim of swatting, of repeated swatting. I think the theory here is he retaliated,” Greenberg said.
Willson faces charges of computer tampering, computer fraud and identity theft that could get him up to five years in prison if convicted.
Illinois lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year making swatting a felony and requiring anyone convicted of the crime to pay back municipalities for the cost of the emergency response. That cost can run anywhere from $20,000 to $100,0000, said Naperville Detective Richard Wistocki, who heads the high technology crimes unit – one of the few police units to actually make an arrest on a swatting case.
“I had people calling me from all over the country because they were swatted, anywhere from California to Michigan to Florida,” he said. “They were calling me because we were able to do some cases involving swatting and coming up with some arrests.”
And swatting has reached beyond the gaming community: to celebrities, lawmakers, even journalists.
“Those types of attacks give them notoriety,” said Wistocki.
Notoriety that comes with a price.
“There’s all kinds of devastating things that can happen,” Wistocki said. “They have devices that will blow a door off a house and what if someone is standing right there when it happens? And it’s all because of swatting. It’s ridiculous.”
A Federal bill called the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act was proposed and was assigned to a congressional committee on Nov. 18 last year. The committee will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate.