Parents now have another thing to worry about with their kids and technology -- celebrity "swatting" calls. When Punk'd premiered on MTV in 2003, the collective celebrity community held its breath, wondering who would be the next victim to be humiliated on national television in the name of harmless fun. Recent tricksters have taken this same form of star-centered pranking in a more sinister direction by reporting fabricated emergencies in celebrity homes. The recent "swatting" trend, whereby pranksters place 911 calls to alert authorities about fake home invasions, robberies and potential hostage situations, have placed victims like Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell and Chris Brown at the center of full-blown emergency response protocols.
The steady increase in "swatting" incidents against celebrities led Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to support a new bill sponsored by California State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) to increase the severity of sentences and improve restitution regulations for individuals convicted of reporting false crimes to law enforcement. The bill increases the financial responsibility of those convicted of such crimes and requires at least a 120-day jail sentence, as well as raises the likelihood of felony filings should any injury occur as the result of police response.
Despite the increased visibility these types of pranks receive as a result of their celebrity victims, these hoaxes existed long before the recent trend in falsified celebrity emergencies. Fake police reports made in the computer gaming community started years ago in response to game rivalries. A teenage hacker named Matthew Weigman was even sentenced to 11 years in federal prison in 2009 due to his role in a "swatting" hoax that led to more than 250 different incidents.
These pranks represent an emerging predicament for police organizations and other first responders who are now working together to promote stiffer penalties for convicted hoaxers and to take down "spoofing" technology frequently used in such pranks. These incidents waste police resources and place innocent civilians in danger by putting potential victims in front of firepower and unsuspecting drivers in the way of dispatch teams racing to the scene of fake crimes. Through new legislation and increased publicity concerning the consequences of false police reports, law enforcement agencies hope to address this disturbing trend in the world of celebrity obsession.
The technology implicated with this new prank scheme makes it difficult to locate the tricksters. The few who have been caught by law enforcement have been found to be children. What kids might think is a harmless and humorous prank can be a federal offense and can result in serious injury or death. Recently, a 12-year-old boy linked to a Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher "swatting" incident was arrested and is awaiting charges. Pranks are just not what they use to be before the advent of spoofing technology, when innocent prank calls were nothing more than spur-of-the-moment fun with friends. Now, these pranks are premeditated and well-designed. Kids can easily access the technology that permits them to hack into a computer system and stage the "swatting" havoc.
Herein lies the call to action for parents to chat with your kids about the dangers and repercussions of "swatting." Educate now before your child becomes the mastermind behind the next celebrity "swatting" scandal.
Follow Hemanshu Nigam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hemanshunigam