How to protect Yourself from Swatters

For all the tech smarts that Zachary Lee Morgenstern had, he was dumb enough to get caught. The Texan 19-year-old went on a rampage using Twitter to make bomb threats and shooting threats to a school a thousand miles away from his home. (The reason for this particular target has not been revealed.) He also sent harassing texts and threatened to murder a police officer plus her family.

This all began in October 2014.

He called police, claiming to be holding people hostage and that he had already shot one. He made additional calls with similar stories. This loser pleaded guilty to the murder threat, and due to that and his apparently clean record, may never get sentenced to prison, but instead, tapped on the wrist with supervised release.

Early on in this tirade, police determined that the threats were hoaxes, but they had to take them seriously. You just never know. A lot of fear spread nevertheless. Using the Google search engine, authorities tracked down Morgenstern’s Twitter handle, which led to a subpoenaed IP address.

Morgenstern’s crime is called swatting. It doesn’t require the Internet, but the Internet makes it easier to do and easier to spread more fear faster. Swatting is that of making hoax calls to the police or emergency services, hoping to send the services to the subject residence or location.

A swatter’s favorite tool is the caller ID spoofer. This shows the caller’s phone number in the caller ID display, but it’s a fake number. So a 9-1-1 operator may think a call is local when in fact, the prankster is 1,000 miles away.

The 9-1-1 system can easily be duped, and such was the case with Doug and Stacey Bates one night.

They and their toddler were asleep in their home when they were blasted awake by a helicopter above the house and police sirens.

Fearing a dangerous criminal was on the loose, Bates grabbed a knife and looked outside to see a bunch of police with rifles; they ordered him out of the house and handcuffed him. Other officers stormed the house. Someone had swatted the Bates.

What if you’re swatted?

  • If you awaken to screaming sirens and flashing lights, don’t peek outside before you call 9-1-1. Don’t GO outside. You may think you’re being swatted, but an escaped killer could be on the loose.
  • Don’t go outside no matter how much commotion there is. Don’t think you can just “set things straight.” After calling 9-1-1, then peek through the windows. Be near a phone. Stay calm.
  • The last thing you’ll ever want to do is step outside holding a knife or other weapon, like Bates did. What do you think the police thought when they saw the knife in his hand? Imagine what they would have thought had he been carrying a gun.
  • Can’t say it enough: stay inside, and hopefully phone communication will be established before anyone rams through the door. Ideally your 9-1-1 call will lead to the police outside calling your house.
  • If you have a good home security system, you’ll be alerted when someone enters your house. The security system should include video surveillance—to capture the swatting event (or for-real event) occurring on your property.

There are security systems that can connect you to the Internet so that you can view what’s going on in your front and backyard via your smartphone.