Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, pranks included putting a “kick me” sticker on the back of someone’s shirt or sending pizza to someone’s home. It also meant calling up a house and asking, “Is your refrigerator running?” When the homeowner responded, “yes,” the caller stated, “then you’d better catch it before it runs away.”
Those were harmless pranks that soon led to others, but the key word was that they were harmless. Today, a different kind of prank is occurring, and it can easily turn deadly. It’s called “swatting,” which means that someone calls 9-1-1 and describes an extremely violent and dangerous situation that requires the response of the police department’s SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) unit.
For example, if someone calls to report a hostage situation or someone is in the home and is threatening to kill another person, SWAT shows up, busts open the door, and teams of heavily-armed police in full riot gear rush in to subdue the perpetrator. Except – there’s no perpetrator. It’s all a prank – and it’s not harmless at all.
The term “swatting” began being used in 2008 when the FBI used the term. It’s been done as a prank since the 1970’s, and today even people in another country can do swatting to someone by using phony user ID information on their phones, so when they call 9-1-1, it shows up as a local call.
Celebrities at Risk
While swatting can happen to anyone, celebrities seem to be one of the top victims. It happened to George W. Bush, TV host Jimmy Kimmel, actor Robert De Niro, and many others, as well as journalists, sports figures, gamers, social media influencers, and everyday people who may have angered someone with a warped idea of payback. Imagine being forced to lie on the floor at gunpoint while the SWAT team searches the house and finds out it’s a prank. Not a pleasant image at all.
In one instance in Wichita, Kansas, the homeowner was killed during the swatting incident. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And swatting has jumped as a vehicle to harass people; in 2010, there were 200 incidents reported around the country. Last year there were over 1,000. It takes up many police departments’ resources and wastes a lot of money – money that cities can’t afford to waste.
It’s not only celebrities who are at risk. Even an average online gamer is subject to swatting if he or she shares a lot of information. If you actively post on various online communities, you increase your risk as well simply because you’re so visible. And the more active you are on social media, the more you expose yourself to risk. Sadly, that’s just the way things are these days.
Things You Can Do
Regardless of who is being targeted for swatting, chances are pretty good that the swatter found you and your personal information on social media. Swatters use people search sites to find names, addresses, and key private information about someone, then use that information to concoct a swatting scenario for their 9-1-1 call.
That’s why one of the top recommendations to avoid being swatted is to remove all of your information from those people’s search sites. The problem is there are over a hundred of them, and each one has its own method of having someone “opt-out.” So unless you have a lot of time to waste finding these sites and then scrubbing that information, manually opting out isn’t the best way to go.
The easiest answer to the question on how to protect yourself from swatting is to do it automatically. OneRep is software that does this for you, using sophisticated software and algorithms that find your information and scrubbing it from the sites – all automatically. You don’t have to do anything at all. The program searches all people search and data broker sites display the information they find and automatically opts you out.
Use Social Media Wisely
If you like to post on social media as millions do each day, use good judgment. Don’t reveal too many intricate details about yourself or your life. This includes comings and goings, trips you plan to take, places you want to visit, and friends you spend time with. The less information about your life that’s floating around on different social media sites, the better when it comes to swatting.
Also, be sure to set your Instagram and Facebook accounts to private. Each social media site has a method for keeping strangers’ prying eyes out of your posts, but you have to make the settings private. Gamers, in particular, should never reveal their identity or location, as this is often used for swatting incidents. If possible, never list your full name on a social media site, as it opens the door to find you on other sites – including people search sites.
Use VPN Software
When using the Internet in public places, like airport lounges and coffee shops, always use VPN (Virtual Private Network) software. It will prevent hackers from viewing your online activity and protect your IP address so someone can’t find your location. Some of the top VPN software included NordVPN, Surfshark, and Cyberghost, among others.
Sign Up with an Anti-Swatting Registry
Many police departments, including Seattle, have established an anti-swatting registry. Your chances of being swatted are greatly reduced if not eliminated altogether by signing up for one. Here’s why: by registering your name and address, the police will respond if someone pranks you with swatting, but they will respond not by busting down your door but by using caution when coming to your door.
Following these tips will help minimize your risk of swatting, keeping you and the people in your home safe.