What is swatting?
Swatting is the practice of making hoax or prank calls to emergency services about ongoing critical incidents in order to fool them into visiting an address unnecessarily. The term comes from the use of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams who respond to emergencies with specialized equipment such as firearms and door breaching tools.
Some of the emergency incidents “swatters” will falsely report to achieve the emergency response are murders, hostage situations or bomb threats. Because of the seriousness of these kinds of situations – the response by emergency services is normally explosive and at times deadly. Swatting has led to the tragic deaths of numerous people around the world.
Although potentially anybody can be “swatted,” and there has been incidents of celebrities and public figures falling victim to the prank – research indicates that most incidents of swatting occurs within the online gaming community. Recent cases have seen swatters preying on people doing live streams while playing video games. They do this so that when the emergency response arrive at the address, the victim is unaware of what’s happening and the swatter might get the chance to watch it unfold through the live stream.
Why do people “swat” others?
People use swatting as a tool to cause irritation, inconvenience or fear for their chosen victim. In some circumstances, being swatted can make the victim feel extremely anxious and can affect people’s general wellbeing and mental health.
Swatting can range from isolated incidents, intended to create rumors and/or get the victim into serious trouble, to sustained bouts of swatting attacks, where bomb squads are deployed and schools or businesses are evacuated multiple times. Sometimes, a group of swatters will target a particular individual or business and strategically make calls to the emergency services again and again regarding the same or different false emergencies with the purpose of creating maximum disruption to their target.
This type of abuse is often classed as harassment and doesn’t necessarily need to be linked to the individual’s home address. The place targeted can be somewhere they visit frequently, their workplace or a friend or family member’s home address also.
How does swatting happen?
Most of the time, incidents of swatting will occur after someone has gained access to personal information such as your home address or place of work, using that information to fuel their harassment campaign. See below for some of the ways that a swatter can gain access to your information.
- Location services – On most devices and consoles, there is an option to use ‘Location services’ in which you allow the device or console to access your location in order to give you a more personalized experience while using it. Sometimes, when using the location services, your exact location will be visible to other users, making it easier for them to pinpoint your home address.
- Doxing – If someone’s information becomes public due to being doxed either by the perpetrator posting the information on different social media platforms or by distributing the information to other people, they are at risk of falling victim to swatting.
- Sharing information – It can be easy to share information with others when using the internet. But by sharing your home address with someone you don’t know well enough, you are putting yourself and anyone else in your home at risk of being swatted.
- IP address – Everyone has their own IP (internet protocol) address. Your IP address is a number allocated to your device such as your laptop as part of your home or office computer network. This makes communication between computers over the internet possible. Although technically no one else should be able to see your IP address apart from you – people do have ways of finding out your IP address and once they have it, they can use it to find your physical address.
If someone has gained access to your home or work address and have threatened to swat you – contact law enforcement to warn them about this as soon as you can.
How can I prevent being swatted?
Although the risk of being swatted is not 100% avoidable (nothing is!) there are steps you can take to ensure you are the safest that you can be online, and the chances of being swatted are very slim.
- Privacy settings – Utilizing your privacy and security settings on all your devices and social media accounts will help to prevent swatters gaining access to your information, making it more difficult for them to get the necessary information to swat you. You should regularly check all safety and security settings for your social media and email accounts periodically especially when changing computer or device that may have different security settings for passwords.
- Switch up your passwords – Change your passwords often and make them different for each email account and social media platform. This means that if one of your accounts ever gets compromised – a swatter won’t be able to access any other accounts using the same password, lowering the risk of them finding out personal information about you. This also means that you still maintain control of your ‘recovery accounts’ to reset your passwords.
- Turn on two-factor authentication – Most platforms now offer a two-factor authentication option for an added layer of security. If you turn this feature on, the person trying to gain access to your account will also need a code that only you can see via message to your cell phone or similar. You can find the option to enable ‘two-factor authentication’ within the settings on most popular platforms.
- Don’t overshare! – When using social media, try not to give out personal information unless you have to, especially to people you don’t know personally. If information such as your home or work address get into the wrong hands, people with access could swat you. It is also worth being mindful of the information offered within your account bio and seeing whether or not it can be combined with your posts over a period of time to give away a ‘clearer picture’ of your location or identitity.
What to do if you’re swatted
Swatting can be an extremely frightening experience, and can even lead to tragic consequences. Below we’ve created some steps to follow if you get swatted. You can also visit our Total Access Support section to learn more about the various ways that we can help you with your problem.
- Remain calm – Remember that law enforcement are responding to a serious emergency call, and if you’re panicked and making sudden movements when they arrive, they will probably interpret that as hostile and it could result in you being injured or even potentially lead to a shooting. Authorities will respond better to a calm, friendly approach.
- Cooperate – Although you may be agitated, it’s important that you cooperate with the local law enforcement. If they need to search your house or temporarily handcuff you, follow their instructions. They are on your side and once you explain what you think has happened, they will help you accordingly.
- Report it – In most countries and states, swatting is taken very seriously. It is a waste of the emergency responders time and can result in the victim being seriously injured. If you are a victim to swatting, file a report and press charges against the person who made the call.