Swatting hoax in Clifton, NJ at Digital Press Video Game Store.
Police across New Jersey have dealt with dozens of phony 911 calls in recent months. The phony 911 calls are a prank known as “swatting,” and investigators say the perpetrators behind the pranks are difficult to catch.
Swatting is officially defined as calling in a fake threat that triggers the deployment of a SWAT team and it has become a very common thing in New Jersey this year.
Robert Ianuale, a Keyport, New Jersey resident, has been swatted multiple times. The first time was in April. Ianuale told FOX 5 he was live streaming on his webcam when officers burst into his apartment.
“Out of nowhere I hear in the back ‘Police!’ I’m just like what? I turn around, and I see police officers coming through the door and three or four with automatic rifles and bulletproof vests,” said Ianuale.
According to Ianuale, the officers told him they had received reports that he shot his girlfriend and was holding hostages.
“I don’t think there is a single county that hasn’t been hit by swatting incidents,” said Richard Frankel, the Special Agent in Charge of the Newark Bureau of the FBI.
Swatting gained popularity among online gamers who would call police on an opponent as an act of revenge or to cause a distraction. Frankel said that is no longer the case. “Everyone is making these calls now,” Frankel said. Targets that have been swatted range from individuals to schools, mosques, and restaurants.
Frankel estimates that there have been 80 or more incidents across New Jersey this year. The towns of Freehold, Princeton, and Holmdel have been hit the hardest. According to local municipalities, responding to a swatting call can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars. Frankel also spoke about the safety issues.
“You’ll have a SWAT team come in there thinking there is an active shooter based on what happened in the past, what has happened at schools, at institutions, at campuses,” he said, adding “I’m surprised there hasn’t been something of the equivalent of a friendly fire at this point.”
Arrests in swatting cases are rare because technology makes it easy to make web-based blocked calls. There are also apps that spoof numbers and make it seem like calls are coming from somewhere else.
“The technology exists where 911 is not just a phone call anymore,” explains Mark Fletcher, the Chief Architect for Public Safety Solutions at Avaya Telecommunications.
Fletcher said swatters call non-emergency lines via the web or send in their threats using internet text services designed for the hearing or speech impaired, making it easier to block the origin of the call.
Swatting has become so widespread that the Federal Communications Commission stepped in and issued an order to block non-verified 911 calls from IP relay services.