Washtenaw County Sheriff Warns Gamers to Shield Identity Online to Avoid Dangerous 'Swatting" Events

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The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office is warning gamers and other people to shield their identity when online to avoid being swept up in a dangerous "swatting" event."

Swatting is when someone calls 911 and reports a serious crime, perhaps a shooting or hostage situation, at the victim's home. The goal of the prank call is to send police (or SWAT team) to the victim's house.

"Some may see this as merely an elaborate prank, but having law enforcement respond can have serious consequences. It also ties up law enforcement resources that could be used for a real emergency," according to a WCSO press release.

The WSCO has responded to two swatting calls in recent weeks. On Aug. 31, around 1:45 a.m., a swatter used the name of a 17-year-old Ypsilanti Township teenager and told police he shot his mother. Police arrived and surrounded the home. They could see into the home and advised dispatch to ask the suspect to exit the home with his hands up. The swatter hung up and deputies engaged with the homeowners, thinking there was a possible shooter inside.

On Sept. 16 around 1:20 a.m., swatter called police pretending to be a 17-year-old Superior Township teen. The swatter stated his mother and father walked in while he was making a bomb and that he accidentally shot them. Deputies arrived and formed a perimeter around the home. After making contact with the residents, they determined it was a fake call.

Police have no suspects in either case.

According to the WSCO news release, both the swatter and the victim are often gamers. Some swatters research their victim online to make the call more believable. The WSCO advises people to shield their identity when gaming.

"Games should avoid divulging information about their identity or location on in-game chat channels or gaming forums. They should also avoid using screen names that would make it easy for strangers to identify them," the news release advises. "Gamers can take further precautions and hide their IP address using a service like a VPN, this will ensure that a potential swatter won’t be able to locate them based on their IP address."

Swatting can have deadly consequences. In 2017, a 28-year-old man was killed by Kansas police during a swatting prank. The California man who made the call was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for making a false report and for related crimes.

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