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What Is Swatting? Protect Against Swatting When Playing Online Games

what is swatting

Swatting has become a dangerous problem, especially in the gaming community, over the past few years. In a high-pressure situation with heavily armed officers, one wrong move can trigger a chain reaction and turn a hoax call into an incident involving injury, property damage, and even death.  To make this even more unnerving, this can happen to anyone at any time. 

Knowing this, the topic of swatting shouldn’t be taken lightly. In this article, I’ll cover what swatting is, who usually commits it, and how it can happen. More importantly, ill cover tips that will help you prevent it from happening to you and share other valuable information.

What Is Swatting?

Swatting example

Swatting is a malicious and dangerous prank that involves making a false emergency call to law enforcement, typically reporting a critical incident, such as a hostage situation, bomb threat, or active shooter situation, at someone’s address. 

The intention behind swatting is to prompt a large-scale response from specialized law enforcement units, such as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, to the targeted individual’s location. SWAT teams are made of highly trained professionals who provide emergency services that involve bomb threats, active shooters, and other serious situations, like someone holding hostages.

The purpose of swatting is to cause fear, chaos, and disruption, as well as potentially endanger the lives of innocent people and law enforcement personnel involved in the response. Swatting is considered a criminal act and carries severe legal consequences.

Swatting is often used as an encompassing term for other false claims, not only those in which SWAT teams respond to emergencies. For instance, hoax callers can send fire departments, police, and even cash-only food deliveries to the victim’s home to prank them.

How Can Someone Swat You?

Before anyone can SWAT you, they will need certain identifying data that would enable them to send the SWAT team to your address. Unfortunately, swatters can use various information to perform swatting attacks.

Swatters can employ various methods to collect personal information, enabling them to carry out swatting attacks. One common technique is doxing, where they search for and gather personal details from publicly available sources. Attackers can find home addresses and IP addresses from these sources, which they can then use to make a hoax call.

This can include online profiles, social media accounts, forums, and other platforms where individuals may inadvertently share personal information. By piecing together bits of data from multiple sources, swatters can get what they need for potential swatting calls.

They can also manipulate individuals or exploit their trust to extract personal information. By posing as someone trustworthy, such as a fellow gamer or a technical support representative, they can deceive victims into revealing sensitive details. 

Swatters with more advanced hacking skills can also get unauthorized access to databases, online accounts, or home networks. 

In some cases, swatters may have insider knowledge or connections that provide them access to personal information. This could include individuals within gaming communities, online platforms, or even law enforcement agencies who abuse their access to data. 

Attackers often use caller ID spoofing, voice changers, and privacy tools like VPNs to hide their identities when engaging in these serious crimes. 

Most Common Groups That Commit Swatting

Anyone with malicious intent can perform a swatting attack, whether they are an organization or an individual. That said, there are a few groups of people that are responsible for the majority of swatting incidents. These include:

Online Gamers

It’s no secret that the online gaming community can get very toxic. This explains why this part of the entertainment industry is responsible for most swatting incidents.  It mainly occurs in games with live chats, such as Counter-Strike and Call of Duty.

In the competitive world of gaming and streaming, some individuals resort to swatting as a means of retaliation or gaining an unfair advantage. 

As to the motives for these swatting attacks, they can range from call to call. It can be a way to disrupt their competitors’ gameplay or streams, causing frustration, interruption, and potentially damaging their reputation. It can often stem from jealousy, a desire to eliminate competition, or exert dominance.

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Swatting incidents can be orchestrated by individuals involved in cybercrime or with advanced hacking skills. For them, swatting may serve multiple purposes. 

It can act as a diversionary tactic, drawing law enforcement’s attention away from their other illegal activities. It can also be used as an extortion tool to seize the victim’s online accounts on social media platforms or make the victim pay a certain ransom, usually in cryptocurrency.

Additionally, these individuals may see swatting as an opportunity to demonstrate their technical prowess and manipulate emergency services for their own amusement.

Disgruntled Individuals and Hate Groups

Some people use swatting as a tool for settling personal grievances or expressing intense animosity towards a specific individual or group. Disgruntled individuals sometimes resort to swatting as a form of revenge, harassment, or intimidation against someone they hold a grudge against. 

Hate groups, driven by prejudice or extremist ideologies, also employ swatting to target individuals or communities they oppose. These groups aim to cause fear, disrupt activities, or amplify the impact of their hateful actions. 

Calls originating from such sources can be particularly dangerous and require robust efforts from law enforcement agencies to investigate and counteract.

Politically-Motivated Individuals or Groups

In some cases, individuals or groups may employ swatting as a means of intimidating or silencing political activists, public officials, or individuals expressing dissenting opinions. 

These incidents may be aimed at disrupting political events, protests, or rallies, or targeting individuals known for their involvement in political activism. 

Politically motivated swatting attempts can have serious implications, as they not only endanger the targeted individuals but also undermine democratic processes and freedom of speech.

For instance, Black Lives Matter activist Melina Abdullah was swatted in 2020 with the intent to “send a message”. Another example is the famous cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs, who has been swatted multiple times over the years.

Online Trolls and Pranksters

This group consists of individuals who engage in swatting as a form of malicious amusement. Unlike some of the previous groups who engage in swatting calls, online trolls and pranksters don’t have any underlying goal.

They simply derive pleasure from causing chaos and panic in the swatting victim, finding entertainment in the distress of others. For some, swatting allows them to gain attention and notoriety within online communities, further fueling their desire to continue such disruptive acts.

These individuals often pick famous people to harass with swatting prank calls, perhaps in a desire to disturb their lives. There have been many examples of public figures who were targeted by these fake phone calls to the Los Angeles police. This includes actor Tom Cruise and singers Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus.

Examples of Swatting Incidents

The New York Times article about swatting

In 2019, Fortnite World Champion Kyle Giersdorf was swatted during a live stream. This happened days after he won the $3 million championship. Another streamer, Jaryd Lazar, was swatted several times in the last few years, with one such incident even occurring in a public park.

In 2015, James Edward Holly swatted Dallas Horton, a man he had a disagreement with. Soon after, the SWAT team arrived at Horton’s home address and stormed his house. In the altercation that followed the police chief was shot multiple times. Fortunately, the chief survived, and the swatter was later caught. Horton, who didn’t realize that it was the police who stormed his home, faced no charges.

But, perhaps the most notorious swatting is the one that occurred on December 28, 2017. An unsuspecting victim called Andrew Thomas Finch was shot dead. To make matters worse, the perpetrator who made the false report gave the wrong address, as the intended target he wanted to swat was another person. 

When the police arrived at the victim’s address, they shot him on his front porch. The perpetrator who made the call was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The Legal Repercussions Of Involvement In a Swatting Incident

Understanding the devastating scale and serious consequences of these attacks, it’s important to mention that the legal repercussions of involvement in a swatting call can be severe and vary depending on the jurisdiction and specific circumstances. 

Swatting is a state criminal offense that can also be a federal crime, depending on the circumstances. It can be classified either as a misdemeanor or a felony. Of course, if it falls under the latter, the person who rang the false alarm could face serious penalties.

It can be grouped with many types of crimes, including cybercrime, interference with law enforcement, and providing false information. One of the most common laws swatting often falls under is one that addresses the “Conspiracy to commit access device fraud and unauthorized access of a protected computer”.

Depending on how severe the consequences of the false report are, the legal repercussions of this criminal activity can be life-changing for the perpetrator. In extreme cases, the person who made a false claim could get a life sentence and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

How to Prevent Swatting From Happening To You When Gaming

The more information the attacker has on you, the more believable their swatting call will be. Moreso, without anyone knowing your IP address or physical location, the chances of a swatting attack are minimal.

Here are a few measures you can take to protect yourself from swatting when gaming online:

  • Avoid Revealing Personal Information Online — Be cautious about sharing personal details online. Avoid providing sensitive information such as your home address, full name, phone number, or other identifying information in gaming forums, gaming profiles, social media platforms, or live streams.
  • Use a VPN — A VPN adds an extra layer of encryption to your network. More importantly, it masks your real IP address and replaces it with the IP address of its server. With your actual IP address hidden, attackers can’t use this information to pinpoint your physical location and commit swatting attacks.
  • Establish a Relationship With The Local Police Departments — Consider contacting your local law enforcement agency to add yourself to their anti-swatting registry. Inform them about your gaming activities, particularly if you stream or participate in esports events. Building a rapport with them and providing them with relevant information can help minimize the likelihood of a misunderstanding.
  • Stay Vigilant Online — Aside from laying low when gaming, it’s also smart to train yourself to distinguish potential scams and social engineering tactics designed to extract valuable data from you. Be wary of phishing emails, keyloggers, and unsafe websites.

What To Do If You Get Swatted By Law Enforcement Officers

Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in the situation of being a target of a swatting attack.  However, if anyone has tried to SWAT you, here’s what you can do if a SWAT team comes to your home:

  • Stay Calm and Cooperate — A swatting call is a potentially serious emergency, and tensions can get very high.  It’s vital to remain calm and composed to ensure your safety and the safety of the responding officers. Follow their instructions promptly and avoid any sudden or aggressive movements that could be misinterpreted.
  • Inform the Police Officers — Clearly communicate to the police officers that you believe you are a victim of a swatting incident. Stay respectful and provide any relevant information that might help them understand the situation better.
  • Follow Instructions — Police officers will have procedures to follow when responding to potential emergencies. Comply with their instructions, which may involve temporarily restraining or moving you to a secure location until they can assess the situation and confirm that it is safe.
  • Cooperate — Law enforcement will likely conduct an investigation into the swatting attack. Cooperate fully, provide police officers with any information or evidence you have about the incident, and help them identify the responsible party if possible.
  • Seek Legal Advice — After the incident, consider consulting with an attorney specializing in criminal law to understand your rights and potential legal recourse against the person or group responsible for the swatting incident.

Swatting in Gaming – Key Things To Remember

Swatting in gaming is a highly concerning phenomenon that poses significant risks to individuals within the community This malicious act of falsely reporting emergencies can lead to unnecessary and potentially dangerous law enforcement responses. This is something we’re all potentially at risk from.

It’s crucial to safeguard your personal information by being cautious about what you share online. One of the main ways of doing so is limiting the exposure of sensitive details that could be exploited by swatters. Prevent swatting by protecting identifiable information, using a VPN, and practicing caution.

If, despite taking the appropriate prevention measures, you still become a victim of a hoax call, remember that the best course of action is to stay calm. The experience can be shocking, but the responding emergency services will deal with the issue in a professional and skilled manner to ensure everyone’s safety.

Swatting in Gaming FAQs

Why would a SWAT team show up at my house?

A SWAT team can come to your home if someone reports an emergency situation at your address. False reports can be dangerous. This can be anything from a hostage situation to active shootings, triggering a swift and potentially violent response from officers.

When did swatting start?

Swatting as a phenomenon originated in the early 2000s, primarily within online communities. The exact date of its inception is hard to pinpoint, but it gained significant attention around 2008. It was only exacerbated by the popularization of online gaming.

Is swatting illegal?

Yes, swatting is highly illegal and carries severe legal consequences. Swatting can lead to charges such as making false reports, false alarms, filing false police reports, conspiracy, harassment, and even endangerment. 

How common is swatting in the gaming community?

While serious and concerning, swatting is a relatively rare occurrence in the gaming world. Luckily, most gamers will never experience it. Still, comprehensive data on its occurrence is limited, so it’s impossible to know the exact extent of these issues.

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