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Crime Games

Online "Swatting" Becomes a Hazard For Gamers Who Play Live On the Internet 569

HughPickens.com writes Nick Wingfield reports at the NYT that practical jokers who call in bogus reports of violence provoking huge police responses have set their sights on a new set of victims: video gamers who play live on the Internet, often in front of huge online audiences. Last month, several hundred people were watching Joshua Peters as he played RuneScape from his parents' home as video showed Peters suddenly leaving his computer when police officers appeared at the house and ordered him and his family at gunpoint to lie face down on the ground after some had called 911 claiming Peters had just shot his roommate. "With the live-streaming platforms, it amplifies the entire situation," says James Clayton Eubanks who says he has been swatted about a half-dozen times while he streamed his Call of Duty sessions. "Not only do they get to do this and cause this misery, they get to watch it unfold in front of thousands of people."

Game companies like Twitch have publicly said that swatting is dangerous, but that there is little else they can do to prevent the pranks. Tracking the culprits behind the pranks is difficult. While bomb scares and other hoaxes have been around for decades, making threats anonymously has never been so easy. Swatters use text messages and online phone services like Skype to relay their threats, employing techniques to make themselves hard to trace. They obtain personal addresses for their victims through property records and other public databases, or by tricking businesses or customer service representatives at a victim's Internet provider into revealing the information. Brandon Willson, a gamer known online as "Famed God," made up a murder to get police to go to an unsuspecting west suburban resident's home last year and ended up behind bars in Nevada awaiting extradition. As part of the investigation, police traveled to Las Vegas to help local police execute a search warrant at Willson's home. Computers seized there contained evidence of the swatting incident, as well as similar incidents across the country, prosecutors claim. Willson faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted on charges of computer tampering and one count each of intimidation, computer fraud, identity theft and disorderly conduct. His mother, Brenda Willson, says her son is innocent and does not smoke, drink or have tattoos. "He would never swat," she says.
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Online "Swatting" Becomes a Hazard For Gamers Who Play Live On the Internet

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  • Idiot Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:33PM (#49316289)

    > His mother, Brenda Willson, says her son is innocent and does not smoke, drink or have tattoos. "He would never swat," she says.

    With a mother as stupid as this, no wonder he's behaving like an asshole.

    • Re: Idiot Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:41PM (#49316337)

      In defense of the mother:

      1) When people are arrested, their friends, family, and neighbors routinely say "I can't believe he did that. He seemed like such a nice guy."

      2) Parents naturally want to see the good in their children and will ignore any bad warning signs lest their kid be anything less than perfect. (Disclosure: I'm a father of two and while I think they are mostly good kids, they are far from perfect.)

      Some people are just really good at hiding their misdeeds or limiting their wrongdoings to specific areas. (e.g. Calling 911 on people playing video games.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        In defense of the mother:

        She took the job. It's her responsibility. Stop making excuses.

        • Re: Idiot Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:13PM (#49317101)

          Your mother did a terrible job at teaching you not to be a dick.

          Everybody thinks they're smarter and would catch all this crazy stuff until it happens to them.

      • Re: Idiot Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2015 @09:36PM (#49316621)

        The point isn't that his mother thinks he's innocent, it's that she thinks smoking, drinking and tattoos are in some way relevant to that judgement.

      • Re: Idiot Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jack Griffin ( 3459907 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @10:51PM (#49316979)

        In defense of the mother:

        1) When people are arrested, their friends, family, and neighbors routinely say "I can't believe he did that. He seemed like such a nice guy."

        I've noticed this a lot, and so told my parents that if I'm ever arrested and the media come asking you've got to say "yeah he was a real dick, I'm glad he got busted". It'd be worth it just for the reaction. I'm also a parent and have a list of stupid quotes ready just in case my kids get caught doing something stupid (we all do stupid things, but only some of us get caught). The media are fuckwits, they don't deserve to be taken seriously.

      • Re: Idiot Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:13PM (#49317103) Homepage Journal

        the point is rather that the mother thinks that just keeping him from smoking, drinking and getting inked up means that he is not a swatter... ...ironically, when if he had been drinking and smoking with inked up friends, he probably would not have swatted or even thought of swatting some people on twitch.

        sounds like the guy was really, really really fucking bored.

      • by TiggertheMad ( 556308 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @02:54AM (#49317975) Homepage Journal
        1) When people are arrested, their friends, family, and neighbors routinely say "I can't believe he did that. He seemed like such a nice guy."

        To be fair, when have you seen a news report where a friend or neighbor said, 'Yeah, he was a dangerous nut job that should have been locked up years ago. it's a shame that the SWAT team didn't just kill him and save the state the trial cost'.

        Swatting is an activity that the 'Internet' seems to think that it can get away with, because it is a novelty. Once Law enforcement accidentally kills a couple of young children by accident in a bumbled raid, you will get a couple of outraged senators who will make this a federal offense punishable with ten to twenty. The law is slow but it always catches up with society changes.
    • Re:Idiot Parents (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:48PM (#49316365)

      > His mother, Brenda Willson, says her son is innocent and does not smoke, drink or have tattoos. "He would never swat," she says.

      With a mother as stupid as this, no wonder he's behaving like an asshole.

      No kidding. Both nature and nurture are against him.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2015 @09:43PM (#49316661)

      "He never even whacks off. Really!"

    • Don't confuse stupidity with ignorance. Many parents do not understand computers or that they can be used for bullying with little effort and a great deal of anonymity. Her statement suggests that she saw no signs that he was making 'bad decisions', in other words falling in with the wrong crowd; likely oblivious to the whole concept that the wrong crowd might be having influence over an internet connection. One of the things I'll be struggling with in the future, as my son gets older, is just how much cov
  • by tinkerghost ( 944862 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:33PM (#49316291) Homepage

    His mother, Brenda Willson, says her son is innocent and does not smoke, drink or have tattoos. "He would never swat," she says.

    He's a perfect angel - his mother says so.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Done and done.

    • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:06PM (#49317059) Journal
      Why do Americans automatically accept that kicking the door down and holding everyone at gunpoint is a reasonable response to an anonymous 911 call?
      • by Altrag ( 195300 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @12:58AM (#49317547)

        Because the PR hit for overreacting to a "threat" is far lower than the PR hit for failing to react to one (and even that's better than silently snuffing out a threat -- bad PR is better than no PR.)

        Actually protecting the public isn't all that much of a concern. And for the most part, the public likes it that way because feeling safe is more immediately obvious than being safe. The former is defined by action (the police caught some bad guys!) whereas the latter is defined by inaction (nothing terrible happened to me today..)

        Read up on security theater. I'm not sure that this would technically fall into that category, but its the same mentality nonetheless.

      • by Noah Haders ( 3621429 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @02:18AM (#49317833)

        Why do Americans automatically accept that kicking the door down and holding everyone at gunpoint is a reasonable response to an anonymous 911 call?

        Yes. This is the question that no one asks. Why we tolerate a culture in which police are empowered to kick in doors all the time.

        • by laejoh ( 648921 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @05:47AM (#49318507)
          Ah... a door repair man conspiracy plot!
        • by brxndxn ( 461473 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @08:39AM (#49319201)
          I think this is the bigger problem. This.. and pretty much ignoring common sense across the board when it comes to any excuse to allowing the government to become more heavy-handed (and frankly, fascist). The media will report this like 'people doing the swatting' are the problem. But, bomb threats and other similar attempts at mayhem have been around since way before the Internet and the police used to respond to them in a sensible manner. I am not saying the police should ignore a 'swat' call - but I am saying they should have some common sense before they suit up 20 officers for warlike conditions and inject them with a 'spasmodic roid rage only-for-the-movies attitude.' I don't care what a random guy on the phone says - it does not mean the other party should forfeit all of their Constitutional rights and have their front door knocked down. In all of this, I would say the biggest problem is not knocking by the police. However, this all fits if you realize the purpose of police militarization and the ridiculously disproportionately expensive warrior on terror is to move us (the US) in a fascist direction since fascism benefits the people currently pay our lawmakers (ie.. the 1%).
        • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @09:30AM (#49319615)

          Why do Americans automatically accept that kicking the door down and holding everyone at gunpoint is a reasonable response to an anonymous 911 call?

          Yes. This is the question that no one asks. Why we tolerate a culture in which police are empowered to kick in doors all the time.

          a) Hollywood/media makes guns glamorous
          b) it doesn't affect us personally (until it does)
          c) there are other issues that are affecting us
          d) our leaders have no interest in the matter (with rare exception).
          e) out political system is broken

          basically, the status quo is really difficult to change because it's controlled by groups of people that only change when members of them die.

      • Because it's not just an anonymous 911 call anymore. These days it could be 9/11 all over again. Everyone could be a terrorist at any moment and we should react accordingly. /sarcasm. ... but is it really sarcasm?

      • by redscare2k4 ( 1178243 ) on Monday March 23, 2015 @05:05AM (#49318391)

        The thing I don't get is what kind of doors you guys have in USA. I want to believe that what you see in TV is just fiction and that doors don't go down with a kick, but even then...The average door in Europe is reinforced and it would take some ram hits before going down, and that assuming the door is not bolted. Heck, the police usually needs to call the firefighters to come with their heavy duty saws when they need to evict someone. So even if police were so reckless here to enter houses guns blazing (which they don't) they would have a pretty hard time doing so.

  • Tracking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeff13 ( 255285 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:35PM (#49316305) Homepage

    "Tracking the culprits behind the pranks is difficult."

    Ummmmm, why?

    • Re:Tracking (Score:5, Informative)

      by Fwipp ( 1473271 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:40PM (#49316329)

      "Tracking the culprits behind the pranks is difficult."

      Ummmmm, why?

      While bomb scares and other hoaxes have been around for decades, making threats anonymously has never been so easy. Swatters use text messages and online phone services like Skype to relay their threats, employing techniques to make themselves hard to trace.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How about they not take anonymous calls like that so seriously?
        I can only imagine what would happen if they took every anonymous post on the internet seriously.

        • Re:Tracking (Score:5, Interesting)

          by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @09:54PM (#49316705)

          How about they not take anonymous calls like that so seriously?

          "An investigations\ by NBC reveal that the police department was alerted anonymously, with the caller informing them that the suspect possessed several types of firearms and had expressed their frustration with the victim numerous times. When asked about this apparent warning, the commissioner declined to comment. An officer working the case who spoke with NBC on the condition of anonymity revealed that they did not take the warning seriously, citing many cases in which police were sent to a location based on such warnings only to find that the warning was a hoax, leaving bills in property damage and unknown damages in lost time and personnel availability. A spokesperson for the family of the victim has stated the family's intent to sue the police department for gross negligence in this matter, and NBC has learned that the caller - later identified as the suspect's brother - is also seeking legal recourse."

          'The boy who cried wolf' tends not to apply to law enforcement, because they get run through the wringer when they decide to ignore the boy.

          • Re:Tracking (Score:5, Insightful)

            by kindbud ( 90044 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:21PM (#49317153) Homepage

            I feel strongly that there is a response in between ignoring anonymous calls, and roaring to the scene in full-on SWAT mode, busting down the door and giving everyone who is unlucky enough to be inside the worst day of their lives.

            • Re:Tracking (Score:5, Insightful)

              by ldobehardcore ( 1738858 ) <steven@dubois.gmail@com> on Monday March 23, 2015 @01:17AM (#49317613)
              That happy middle is called due diligence via police work. You don't send a swat team to do a detective's work, and that's exactly what more and more PDs are doing every day. It's a disgusting lack of intellectual effort on the part of the PDs, and exposes them for what they are: Soldier wannabes who are too cowardly to actually enlist.
            • by N1AK ( 864906 )
              There clearly is because the whole concept of SWATing doesn't seem to have made it to Europe. I can't help that's because we just don't seem to do the full on wanna-be military style raids as standard response to so many crimes.

              So yes I agree completely that overusing extreme force is an issue and should be dealt with, it still doesn't mean that you shouldn't target the people trying to make the police use that force to SWAT someone. I find it hard to believe that in more than 50% of SWATing cases you co
  • by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:36PM (#49316309)
    Dear mother, smoking, drinking and having tattoos are not good traits, but they are not necessary for someone to be a nasty criminal.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jahava ( 946858 )

      Dear mother, smoking, drinking and having tattoos are not good traits, but they are not necessary for someone to be a nasty criminal.

      Curious - what is necessarily wrong with those traits? Obviously, from the story, one can be quite devastatingly evil (causing an incident resulting in innocents at gunpoint) without them.

      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        Most people who do those do those to be "cool", not because they like to do them.
      • by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @09:13PM (#49316487)

        Dear mother, smoking, drinking and having tattoos are not good traits, but they are not necessary for someone to be a nasty criminal.

        Curious - what is necessarily wrong with those traits? Obviously, from the story, one can be quite devastatingly evil (causing an incident resulting in innocents at gunpoint) without them.

        Smoking gives you cancer, drinking ruins your liver and can result in uncontrolled behavior (brawls, DUIs, etc), and tattoos basically ruin your chance at a lot of jobs. They're also all correlated somewhat with anti-social behavior (of various kinds) in general, which I think was the point the mother was relying on. "Because he lacks traits correlated with bad behavior, he must not have engaged in bad behavior." Obviously, this is faulty, but mothers often aren't rational when it comes to defending their kids.

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:58PM (#49316415)

      There appears to be something really wrong with this kid if he doesn't engage in normal peer behavior.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There appears to be something really wrong with this kid if he doesn't engage in normal peer behavior.

        Wait, are you serious? I honestly can't tell. When I was a lad I never smoked, because I hated the smell and didn't want to fuck up my lungs/get cancer. I didn't drink that much because everywhere I looked, people took drinking to mean drinking to excess and acting like fucking idiots, and I didn't want to become one of them (not that I don't drink now, just not that much). I wasn't interested in getting an

  • Fuck those guys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:38PM (#49316317)

    This isn't a prank. This is attempted murder by cop.

    Also, the cops should better assess the situation before invading people's houses at gunpoint.

    • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BradMajors ( 995624 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:46PM (#49316355)

      The root of the problem is that police might kill someone based upon an anonymous tip.

      • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Informative)

        by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:56PM (#49316401) Journal

        There been reports of them killing people when they got the wrong address too. Nothing has happened that I know of about this either so I am not too confident anything would be making them think twice on a tip.

        • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Informative)

          by sg_oneill ( 159032 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @09:23PM (#49316551)

          There was one case where the cops shot the father of a swatting victim. I believe the person behind the swatting attack is doing some fairly serious time though.

          • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 22, 2015 @10:13PM (#49316803)

            How about the cops doing some time for shooting a random innocent?

            • How about the cops doing some time for shooting a random innocent?

              Theres definately an argument to be made for that.

              With all that said, I sort of understand how it happens. If they get a phonecall saying someones berking out with a machine gun or whatever , they *have* to respond, and unfortunately this seems to be the consequences.

              What I do wonder is why so many SWAT raids end in violence in the US when so many other countries just dont have that sort of problem. My guess is poor training.

              • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Interesting)

                by CrankyFool ( 680025 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:15PM (#49317117)

                I'd guess that it's because the US is at the top of the list of "the person whose house you're about to invade is likely to be heavily armed."

                I spent two weeks in the UK recently, with their largely-unarmed police force in full showing (mind you, I also walked by Buckingham Palace and Parliament, where I saw very heavily armed cops). They know that the vast majority of their citizenry is similarly unarmed.

                Compare that to the US. I'm guessing SWAT officers are rather more trigger-twitchy because of that. I would be.

                • I spent two weeks in the UK recently, with their largely-unarmed police force in full showing (mind you, I also walked by Buckingham Palace and Parliament, where I saw very heavily armed cops). They know that the vast majority of their citizenry is similarly unarmed.

                  You know, I was in Beijing for the past week, and noticed the same thing. Lots of cops, but no guns. There were many military around tie amen square, posted as guards.they all had nightsticks, riot shields. And in some cases staffs like Donatello. But no guns.

              • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Insightful)

                by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:30PM (#49317213) Journal

                What I do wonder is why so many SWAT raids end in violence in the US when so many other countries just dont have that sort of problem. My guess is poor training.

                Other countries don't have that problem because we don't send a swat team to investigate a routine 911 call, we send a patrol car and knock on the fucking door. Sure we have swat teams, we send them in to end confirmed sieges because that is what a swat team is trained for. Also the knowledge that everyone and his dog is armed to the teeth in the US encourages the cops shoot first and make up excuses later. If you ask me the cop who shot the kid in Ferguson was a coward, he panicked because he was alone and and could not control a black kid who was bigger than him. The last people you want waving a gun around like John Wayne, are fucking cowards.

      • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Insightful)

        by aaronb1138 ( 2035478 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @09:35PM (#49316607)
        The problem is that police would respond with that level of force based upon an anonymous tip.

        The problem is more the police than the swatters. The swatters are malicious actors. The police are failing to perform as good actors by following through the least bit of due diligence in these situations. Before breaking down the door, they should at least have a seasoned, senior officer knock to see if anything seems odd first.

        The problem is a police force filled with the same adrenaline junky types that call in the swatting. They see an opportunity to break a door down and going running around in full CQC gear and they lose their composure. If they were actually interested in public safety, that wouldn't be their first impulse reaction to a potential emergency situation, negotiation and diffusal would be.
        • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mike610544 ( 578872 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @10:28PM (#49316885)

          Before breaking down the door, they should at least have a seasoned, senior officer knock to see if anything seems odd first.

          They probably could respond more reasonably, but walking up to the door and knocking might be a bit reckless. What if it's not a false alarm and there's am unstable, armed murderer on the other side?

          • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @11:08PM (#49317069) Homepage

            If a plainclothes officer knocks and pretends to be a Jehovah's Witness at first in order to access the situation, even unstable armed murderers do not have a history of shooting.

            • by hoggoth ( 414195 )

              I would first confirm that the visitor is actually a Jehovah's Witness before shooting him.

    • Re:Fuck those guys (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Akaihiryuu ( 786040 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @09:39PM (#49316639)
      This. This should be charged *at the very minimum* as attempted murder (if noone is hurt). If the police do kill someone as a result of it, then it should be charged as premeditated murder and treated accordingly under the law.
  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:41PM (#49316335)
    This is one of those times when our government's all knowing, all access panopticon would actually be useful. Seriously, our cops can't trace the swatters?
  • Honestly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:45PM (#49316351) Homepage Journal
    I don't know what drinking, smoking, or having tattoos has to do with anything. Does he have a computer? Does he use it for mischief.

    A couple cases of kids going to jail will limit the problem. Teenagers are always going to test limits, and some do so to the extent that the adult legal system is required to help motivate them not to cause problems for other people.

    It was not so long ago that the telephone was a new thing, many parents were not raised with it, and did not really know how to manage it with the kids. Kids got into trouble, and laws were passed to help define what was good and bad behavior.

    I know that adults say this all the time, but if we do not figure out how to play with our toys nicely, we are going to lose the privileged of unencumbered play.

    From a personal point of view, from personal experience, in my opinion there is no punishment too great for someone who files false police reports, and that goes doubly so for those cowards who hide behind computers.

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:47PM (#49316359)

    Really the pranks. By that standard I suppose John Wayne Gacy was just an enthusiastic gardener.

  • by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Sunday March 22, 2015 @08:58PM (#49316417)
    The problem is the police respond to everything with a huge over-reaction. They don't investigate, they don't use common sense, they just go in armed to the teeth ready to shoot anything that either moves or doesn't move fast enough and the hell with the consequences, as long as the consequences fall on the target, not the cops.

    How the hell did we get such a militarized police force anyway?
    • How the hell did we get such a militarized police force anyway?

      Same old story...a few bad apples ruin it for the rest. They should just put gunshot detectors on light poles and be done with it. They use them in the military to detect the discharge vector using triangulation. Three mics and a Raspberry Pi running off the bulb's current, transmitting to reserved bandwidth on the nearest cell tower. Of course if they actually did this it would cost ONE MILLION DOLLARS per device...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )

      Swatters have been known to intentionally act irrational/hysterical, and put time pressure on the police. They could talk about how they're going to kill someone in the next hour, and perhaps talk about how they'll kill any police that they see as well. They may tell the police that if anyone tries to call them back or contacts them in any way, they'll kill a hostage.

      This leaves the police in a quandary. In the case of the Columbine school shootings, the police were criticized for waiting too long before [oregonlive.com]

    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      To include the somewhat overused quote from Ben Franklin: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

      Problem is, (to paraphrase) people prefer security over freedom, and so are giving up the latter left and right these days. The problem is, honestly, for the vast majority they will have (somewhat) increased security with no noticeable loss of freedoms. People only realized how bad things have become if they are one of those small

    • How the hell did we get such a militarized police force anyway?

      Here's your answer. [wikipedia.org]

    • e got such a militarized police force thanks in large part to the "War on Terror." combined with the "War on Drugs." The former has provided far too much military gear to local police departments based on absurd overreactions to ridiculously rare events that hold an outsized power over the imagination of many people. The latter has provided the excuse to put many of these things to use on a regular basis.
  • They all are sweetie. They all are.

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