Celebrities Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and others aren’t the only ones punked in “swatting,” parlance for an online emergency hoax that causes law enforcement officials, usually a SWAT team, to rush in full riot gear to the scene of fake crime.
West Bloomfield police were dispatched last week to what sounded like a serious crime in process, The Oakland Press reports. Dispatchers told authorities that a man in the Foxpointe Condominium claimed to have shot his wife with an AK-47, planted explosives throughout the condo, and then took a neighbor hostage and killed him.
The department sent its special response team to the neighborhood about 1:30 p.m. on July 1. Police had established a perimeter in the area of Orchard Lake and Lone Pine roads, where the condo is located, and attempted to make contact with a person inside the condo before realizing the call was a hoax.
The FBI says swatting has resulted in some close calls, including the injury of a police officer en route to a hoax. Also, the FBI said, some victims have suffered mild heart attacks when SWAT teams show up at their doors.
Another incident of swatting, usually is done by computer hackers, was reported in Independence Township in April when Oakland County sheriff’s deputies believed a man with a machine gun had taken hostages and planned to harm them, The Oakland Press said in an earlier report.
If caught, the perpetrator of those crimes could be charged with a five-, 10- or 15-year felony if someone is injured dies as a result of the pranking under legislation signed in 2012 by Gov. Rick Snyder and passed with bipartisan support.
At a minimum, anyone caught making a false report would face a four-year felony charge and a $2,000 fine. In the most severe cases, a $50,000 fine could be levied. Swatters also could be billed for the cost of an emergency response. If they’re minors, those costs could be assessed to their parents.
Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, sponsored the legislation in response to an August 2011 incident in which a teenaged hacker in Boston used an online hearing-impaired service to make it appear as though a teenager in Troy made an emergency call to report his home was being overrun by gunmen.
The two teens had been playing video games and got into a dispute.Troy authorities deployed the police department's SWAT team and the teen and his family were ordered to the ground and held at gunpoint.
» Read more about Michigan’s anti-swatting bill here.