It is called swatting. A prankster makes a 911 call, claims to be in danger, a SWAT team is deployed to the scene, and the victim is dragged out of his or her house at gunpoint. It is immature, extremely dangerous and it wastes police resources. Recently, disgruntled Xbox Live users have employed the tactic more than once, to get back at the Microsoft employees that supervise the gaming network.
On August 29, Eric Neustadter, the operations manager for Xbox Live, was the target of a hoax callout. “He” sent a message to AT&T’s cell-phone emergency service that read:
2 armed Russian males broke in and they shot my son. They have claymores outside…my door is barricaded…pls hurry!
Soon after followed another text that read:
They are coming upstairs…pls hurry.
The AT&T operator made the emergency call. By this time it was early in the morning. While on the phone, police dispatch asked “Eric” for his phone number. He responded with:
They cut the phone lines.
The Sheriff’s Office tracked down the address and deputies were dispatched. Meanwhile, “Eric” sent more messages:
Kicked the door in.
Now they are trying to break into my room.
Now it was 4 a.m., and deputies were taking up position outside his home. “Eric” sent yet another message:
Please hurry, they have weapons.
At this stage, the police operator managed to reach the real Eric on the phone. He assured the operator that everything was okay. As police ordered him to come out of his house, AT&T received another message:
There’s a device blinking red on the kitchen table.
Eric was momentarily detained while the deputies made sure that nobody was hurt.
A police report given to Seattle PI elaborates:
After the scene was deemed safe I talked a little more in-depth with XXX. He informed me that he is XXX for Xbox Live Operations and one of his primary duties is to head up teams whose job it is to find and shut down hackers who hack the system to locate cheats for Xbox and try and sell them. The hackers become extremely upset when this occurs and have been known to retaliate for it.
XXX told me that similar incidents to tonight’s have occurred to other employees at Microsoft
Disgruntled hackers have been targeting Microsoft employees who enforce Xbox gaming rules by sending hoax emergency messages to police, saying the employees are under attack at their homes in the middle of the night.
Swatting does a lot more than frighten its victims: It puts them and their immediate family in direct physical danger. Police responding to such incidents have to treat them as real and no matter how experienced and how well-trained they are, mistakes happen – it’s fortunate that none have happened yet.