What is ‘swatting’ and how can it lead to accidental deaths

Tech

DES MOINES, WA – FEBRUARY 16: A student exits campus near a SWAT team vehicle after a threat of an active shooter shut down campus at Highline College on February 16, 2018 in Des Moines, Washington. Police found no evidence of a shooting despite students reporting that they heard gunfire. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — After a Tennessee man’s death, caused in part by a ‘swatting’ phone call, new attention has been drawn to the practice that’s caused severe injuries and even death.

60-year-old Mark Herring was like many victims of “swatting”, the target of a vengeful person online from up to thousands of miles away.

How it Works

The practice is when a person makes a phone call to the local police in the target’s hometown stating a crisis, like a shooting or hostage situation, is unfolding. The usual response is law enforcement will send emergency officers, like swat teams, to the target’s house.

The swatter normally gains the victim’s information by “doxing” their address and other personal information.

While swatting is mostly deployed as a prank or harassment technique not intended to kill people, it has resulted in injuries to law enforcement and the targets.

Who are the Swatters

It’s frequently used by members of the online gaming community or other people seeking revenge online.

Swatters are difficult for law enforcement to catch because they employ IP cloaking techniques. Other times, professional swatters will be hired by those seeking revenge making it even harder to track who actually ordered the hit.

There are severe legal penalties for those caught engaging in the practice.

the accidental death of andrew finch

A well-known victim of swatting was 28-year-old Andrew Finch who died in 2017 when he was fatally shot by law enforcement responding to a fake hostage threat in Wichita, Kansas.

Finch was unintentionally in the crossfire between two gamers based in Kansas feuding online. 19-year-old Casey Viner contacted a Los Angeles man, 26-year-old Tyler Rai Barriss, to carry out a swatting on 18-year-old Shane Gaskill.

Gaskill realized he was being targeted so he tricked Barriss into swatting the wrong house. Finch, unaware his house was being raided by swat teams, answered the door to the swat teams and was shot by police.

Barriss, who was responsible for dozens of other swattings, pleaded guilty to 51 federal charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

How to protect yourself

Cybersecurity experts recommend never giving away personal information online that could help someone locate you in real life.

They also recommend employing a VPN which can disguise your IP address and make it harder for a person online to locate you.

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