February 2nd, 2009 09:55 AM
Prank 911 Calls
FOXNews.com - Prank 911Calls Send SWAT Teams to Unsuspecting Homes - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News
This is scary:
Doug Bates and his wife, Stacey, were in bed around 10 p.m., their 2-year-old daughters asleep in a nearby room. Suddenly they were shaken awake by the wail of police sirens and the rumble of a helicopter above their suburban Southern California home. A criminal must be on the loose, they thought.
Doug Bates got up to lock the doors and grabbed a knife. A beam from a flashlight hit him. He peeked into the backyard. A swarm of police, assault rifles drawn, ordered him out of the house. Bates emerged, frightened and with the knife in his hand, as his wife frantically dialed 911. They were handcuffed and ordered to the ground while officers stormed the house.
The scene of mayhem and carnage the officers expected was nowhere to be found. Neither the Bateses nor the officers knew that they were pawns in a dangerous game being played 1,200 miles away by a teenager bent on terrifying a random family of strangers.
They were victims of a new kind of telephone fraud that exploits a weakness in the way the 911 system handles calls from Internet-based phone services. The attacks — called "swatting" because armed police SWAT teams usually respond — are virtually unstoppable, and an Associated Press investigation found that budget-strapped 911 centers are essentially defenseless without an overhaul of their computer systems.
The AP examined hundreds of pages of court documents and law-enforcement transcripts, listened to audio of "swatting" calls, and interviewed two dozen security experts, investigators, defense lawyers, victims and perpetrators.
While Doug and Stacey Bates were cuffed on the ground that night in March 2007, 18-year-old Randal Ellis, living with his parents in Mukilteo, Wash., was nearly finished with the 27-minute yarn about a drug-fueled murder that brought the Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT team to the Bateses' home.
In a grisly sounding call to 911, Ellis was putting an Internet-based phone service for the hearing-impaired to nefarious use. By entering bogus information about his location, Ellis was able to make it seem to the 911 operator as if he was calling from inside the Bateses' home. He said he was high on drugs and had just shot his sister.
According to prosecutors, Ellis picked the Bates family at random, as he did with all of the 185 calls investigators say he made to 911 operators around the country.
"If I would have had a gun in my hand, I probably would have been shot," said Doug Bates, 38. Last March, Ellis was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to five felony counts, including computer access and fraud, false imprisonment by violence and falsely reporting a crime.
In a separate, multistate case prosecuted by federal authorities in Dallas, eight people were charged with orchestrating up to 300 "swatting" calls to victims they met on telephone party chat lines. The three ringleaders were each sentenced to five years in prison. Two others were sentenced to 2 1/2 years. One defendant pleaded guilty last week and could get a 13-year sentence. The remaining two are set to go on trial in February.
A similar case was reported in Salinas, Calif., where officers surrounded an apartment where a call had come in claiming men with assault rifles were trying to break in. In Hiawatha, Iowa, fake calls about a workplace shooting included realistic gunshot sounds and moaning in the background. In November, a teenage hacker from Worcester, Mass., pleaded guilty to a five-month swatting spree including a bomb threat and report of an armed gunman that caused two schools to be evacuated.
Many times, however, swats don't get fully investigated or reported.
Orange County Sheriff's detective Brian Sims spent weeks serving search warrants on Internet providers before he identified Ellis through his numeric computer identifier, known as an IP address.
Law enforcement hopes lengthy prison terms will deter would-be swatters. Technology alone isn't enough to stop the crimes.
Unlike calls that come from landline phones, which are registered to a fixed physical address and display that on 911 dispatchers' screens, calls coming from people's computers, or even calls from landline or cell phones that are routed through spoofing services, could appear to be originating from anywhere.
Scores of Caller ID spoofing services have sprung up, offering to disguise callers' origins for a fee. All anybody needs to do is pony up for a certain number of minutes, punch in a PIN code and specify whom they're calling and what they'd like the Caller ID to display.
Spoofing Caller ID is perfectly legal. Legitimate businesses use the technology to project a single callback number for an entire office, or to let executives working from home cloak their home numbers when making outgoing calls.
At the same time, criminals have latched onto the technique to get revenge on rivals or get their kicks by harassing strangers.
"We're not able to cope with this very well," said Roger Hixson, technical issues director for the National Emergency Number Association, the 911 system's industry group. "We're just hoping this doesn't become a widespread hobby."
The 911 system was built on the idea it could trust the information it was receiving from callers. Upgrading the system to accommodate new technologies can be a huge task.
Gary Allen, editor of Dispatch Monthly, a Berkeley, Calif.-based magazine focused on public-safety communications centers, said dispatchers are "totally at the mercy of the people who call" and the fact they don't have technology to identify which incoming calls are from Internet-based sources.
Allen said upgrading the communications centers' computers to flash an Internet caller's IP address could be helpful in thwarting fraudulent calls. He said an even simpler fix, tweaking the computers to identify calls from Internet telephone services and flash the name of the service provider to dispatchers, can cost under $5,000, but is usually still too costly for many communications centers.
But because this style of fraudulent calls is so new, and many emergency-dispatch centers receive few Internet calls in the first place, those upgrades are not frequently done.
Swatting calls place an immense strain on responding departments. The Orange County Sheriff's Department deployed about 30 people to the Bateses' home, including a SWAT team, a helicopter and K-9 units. It cost the department $14,700.
They take their toll on victims, too.
Tony Messina, a construction worker from Salina, N.Y., was swatted three times by the gang broken up by the federal authorities in Dallas. He was even arrested as the result of one call, because authorities found weapons he wasn't supposed to have while they were searching the house.
Messina had made some enemies on a party line he frequented to flirt with women. Some guys disliked him and out of jealousy, he says, they started swatting him.
The first time, he was home alone with his two poodles when officers swarmed his backyard at 6 a.m. According to Messina, the callers said he had "killed a hooker and sliced her ear to ear, blood all over the place, I'm doing drugs and if you police come over here I'm going to kill you, too." After a few hours at the police station, he was let go.
Two weeks later, he was detained outside his house. A month later, he was in bed watching TV when he saw someone with a flashlight at his window. He went outside and was handcuffed while deputies searched his house and car.
Messina had been told to call 911 himself if the swatting calls happened again, and when the deputies realized it was another fraudulent call, Messina was let go. He said he suffered bruised ribs that kept him out of work for a month and a half.
Investigators say swatters are usually motivated by a mixture of ego and malice, a desire for revenge and domination over rivals.
Jason Trowbridge, one of the defendants currently serving a five-year sentence, told the AP in a series of letters from prison that the attacks started with the standard fare of prank callers — sending pizzas and locksmiths to victims' homes — escalated to shutting the power and water off and eventually led to swatting.
"Nobody ever thought anyone would get hurt or die from a SWAT call," he said.
Cogito, ergo armatum sum. I think, therefore I am armed. (Don Mann, The Modern Day Gunslinger; the ultimate handgun training manual)
February 2nd, 2009 10:16 AM
That's truly a nightmare scenario. If you're armed when Swat kicks in your door, and in a micro-fraction of a second your instincts drive your hand to your sidearm..... well, you lose.
The facts are indisputable. There is more data supporting the benefits of Conceal Carry than there is supporting global warming. If you choose ignorance, in light of all the evidence, in order to bolster your irrational fear of guns, you are a greater threat to society than any gun owner.
February 2nd, 2009 10:42 AM
All one can hope for is that either you happen to have gotten up for a glass of water when oyu see a bunch of guys in tactical gear running past your window, or that they shout POLICE when they kick down or blow the door.
February 2nd, 2009 11:09 AM
Hmmm, went to school with a Jason Trowbridge (as in the article).
Scary but not something I will worry about. Got enough on my plate, don't need to worry about something I can't do anything about...plenty of things like that.
I carry a gun so I can worry less, I don't carry a gun because I worry.
Pray for our nations leaders!
February 2nd, 2009 11:12 AM
Wow, this is a new level of pranking only possible with the popularity of Vonage and other 'net phones. I remember back in the day my prank calls were actually to my friends and I would "Donkey Kong" or "Yoda" them until they figured out who it was. Pretty funny and harmless, not so with 'SWATTING"! This is a bad turn for citizens and police depts alike, I hope this trend disappears soon! Sadly, it's not likely with all the bored and tech-savvy teens these days... why play a video game when you can mess with someone for real?
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down & lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, & may posterity forget you were countrymen.
February 2nd, 2009 11:24 AM
Anyone caught should be prosecuted to the fullest and made to pay full restitution to the involved departments, as well as to any civilian involved. That also includes damages and mental anguish.
Well they can hope in one hand and do you know what in the other, and see which hand is filled first! Just look at the "lengthy sentences handed out in the 2 cases mentioned were.
Law enforcement hopes lengthy prison terms will deter would-be swatters.
Last March, Ellis was sentenced to three years
in prison after pleading guilty to five felony counts, including computer access and fraud, false imprisonment by violence and falsely reporting a crime.
The three ringleaders were each sentenced to five years in prison. Two others were sentenced to 2 1/2 years
February 2nd, 2009 01:04 PM
!0 years minimum with not having computer access as a condition of parole
"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"
--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington , DC .
February 2nd, 2009 01:29 PM
If the cops busted down the door, and you opened fire killing one, or more officers, or you got killed, would the 'swatter' be charged with murder? Would you, would the LEO?
February 2nd, 2009 01:53 PM
It is also possible (very small possibility) that the troops can show up by mistake. Ever since the incident that follows I have wondered:
How does an armed law abiding citizen respond to their front door being smashed in by shadowy figures yelling "police search warrant"?
Elderly couple shaken up after state troopers break in
By MURALI BALAJI, Staff reporter The News Journal
An elderly couple and their house guest were left shaken and angry Friday night after state troopers mistakenly burst through the door of their New Castle home with a battering ram during a raid. Walter Taplin, 83, his wife Patricia, 74, and guest Nancy Powers, 72, were awakened at 9:45 p.m. by the sounds of banging against the door. Moments later, troopers dressed in black came through the entrance.
New Castle, Delaware April, 2003
Or this from CNN read the second story or this from Maryland so now I have to couple these accidents with the fact that someone may send the SWAT team as a joke. What a strange world we live in.
"To believe that social reforms can eradicate evil altogether is to forget that evil is a protean creature, forever assuming a new shape when deprived of an old one." - SAT
Never argue with an idiot - they'll bring you down to their level then beat you with experience.
February 2nd, 2009 03:03 PM
I agree with archer51. Full restitution should be payed for all damages, costs (gas, payroll, and all others for the time the cops wasted), and any other incidental costs. Then put them to work doing community service.
The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
NRA Life Member
February 2nd, 2009 11:00 PM
I think Ellis should spend a long, long, long time in prison. After he is subjected to some treatment to put the same amount of fear into him that some of the families experienced.
Also, do the PD's/SWAT have any fault in these scenarios for responding to unverified calls?
I don't understand why there isn't a law requiring folks with internet based phone service or the providers offering internet based phone service to ensure that the users have static IP addresses so that when a 911 call is made from the phone, the IP address is used to tie it back to the address where the call is made.
I don't think that would require too much of an overhaul of the current system, and would benefit everyone.
Just remember that shot placement is much more important with what you carry than how big a bang you get with each trigger pull.
Texas CHL Instructor
Texas Hunter Education Instructor
February 2nd, 2009 11:35 PM
Assuming it's dark and nearly impossible to discern who the intruders are. And assuming that people that bust down your door in the middle of the night usually aren't good guys. If you somehow miraculously manage to draw, fire, and survive the ensuing fury of gunfire would you be charged with a crime?
Originally Posted by BlackPR
Personally, I don't think you should be charged with anything but I'm sure you would, though probably to a lesser extent than a true criminal would.
Sig Sauer P229 9mm
Sig Sauer P238 .380
Colt XSE 1911 .45
February 3rd, 2009 11:06 AM
Nope, no community service for the punks, a long time locked up behind bars is what they deserve and that is what they should get. In my opinion community service for a serious crime is nothing more than re-enforcement that they can get away with anything they chose to do.
Originally Posted by lacrosse50
February 3rd, 2009 11:34 AM
I don't think that's necessary. All these VoIP services have to have some sort of unique ID that is transmitted, and one could just use that. Requiring a static IP is going to cost more, and is also going to establish a set identity for each IP, which kind of defeats the purpose of relative anonymity of the internet - think of if someone posted all the CHL license holders in your town on a big announcement board.
Originally Posted by farronwolf
They can always just ask the ISP who was on that IP, but sometimes they go through hoops to mask their true originating IP. It still won't help the problem of spoofing caller ID though.
February 3rd, 2009 11:59 AM
I have a spoofcard account. I use it often to get customers who rent my car to return it when they are overdue. I would never Swat anybody. people have to much free time on their hands.
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