Tuesday, February 3, 2009

'Swatting' Conspiracy

A new kind of telephone fraud is creating problems for police around the country. Fake callers are using the internet-based phone service intended for use by the deaf to call in bogus information to 911 operators. It’s called “swatting” because the caller will use the VoIP networks to make up a story about a murder inside a home. Heavily armed police SWAT teams will then show up at the house. And there’s no way for the operators to know the call is a fake. It’s a flaw in their computer systems that could lead to problems when a deaf person makes a real emergency call.

Massachusetts teen Matthew Weigman has pleaded guilty in Dallas to charges that he was part of a nationwide swatting group that struck more than 250 times. More than once, he made up a story about killing family members and threatening hostages with an rifle. He even bragged about what he did. Weigman is blind and used online names like Little Hacker. He faces as much as 13 years behind bars. A co-conspirator has already been sentenced to two years in prison.

In an earlier case, a teenager in Washington State used the internet service to call 911 in Southern California. He told emergency operators that he said he was high on drugs and had just shot his sister. He said he was calling from an address that he randomly picked out. Prosecutors say a police SWAT team from Orange County responded, showing up the couple’s house and ordering them out of the home and on the ground. The teen pled guilty to charges last year and was given three years in prison.