Prank callers are using VoIP and caller ID spoofing services to pull expensive wool over the eyes of 911 call centers. Solutions are available to bring these centers into the 21st century, but even the cheapest ones are priced outside the realm of the aging service.
By David Chartier | Last updated February 2, 2009 7:30
The Internet and the hooligans who exploit it have evolved over the past few years, but sadly, America's 911 service hasn't kept up. Pranksters are wreaking havoc on the service and on call center budgets by placing fake calls through a flaw in the way the aging emergency phone system handles VoIP networks.
After paying a small fee to one of the readily available caller ID spoofing services available on the Web, a prank caller with a grudge or a serious psychological problem can call 911 and tell the operator just about any story he or she wants. Since the 911 system wasn't built with VoIP in mind, these calls appear to originate from anywhere, and said hooligans take full advantage of the opportunity. The practice has been dubbed "swatting," typically because the spoofed emergency stories that these troubled individuals make up are horrible enough to send police and even SWAT teams to unsuspecting victims on the other side of town or the continent.
The AP reports one recent incident that occurred in 2007, when18-year-old Randal Ellis in Mukilteo, WA falsified his location and called a 911 support center in Orange County, CA. For 27 minutes, Ellis spun a story about drugs and murder that sent the Orange County Sherriff's department SWAT team to the house of Doug and Stacey Bates. Ellis told the operator that he was high and had just shot his sister, and after police stormed the house, Doug and Stacey were handcuffed.
This was just one of the 185 calls Ellis made to 911 call centers around the US, according to Yahoo Tech, and the Bates family was picked at random. After being caught, the teen pleaded to five felony felony counts that include computer access and fraud, as well as false imprisonment by violence, and was sentenced to serve three years in prison. Another major case involved eight people who arranged over 300 swatting calls, while another in 2006 involved a teen in Dallas, TX who made up a story about killing family members and threatening hostages with an AK-47.