By Gillian Shaw
A Langley family has become the latest victim of swatting, a practice in which 911 callers trick police into sending out a SWAT team in response to a bogus call.
Langley RCMP blocked traffic and the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team surrounded a home in the 27100 block of 16th Avenue earlier this week when a man called saying he had killed several people and was holding more hostage.
A Langley mother and her two teenage children were taken into custody at their home only to be released at the scene when police discovered the bogus call may have been made through the family computer, which had been hacked.
Police seized the computer at the request of the family and the RCMP tech crimes unit is examining it..
Langley's Louise Gray told CBC her family has been harassed by a hacker for the past 18 months after her son posted a video to YouTube. She said their phone numbers, addresses and email addresses have been posted online. Gray told CBC she went to the police when the harassment began but she said police ignored her.
Langley RCMP spokesperson Contable Jillian Roberts said the call didn't come from the residence but it traced back to a cell phone number in California. Roberts said the investigation hasn't yet determined if the call was made by spoofing a phone number, although she said it appears the 911 call was made using an Internet phone service similar to Skype. Spoofing, a practice that also can be used by voicemail hackers occurs when someone hides the source of a call by having another number show up on the call display.
"We believe the original call was made through the family computer," said Roberts.
"The call was actually traced back to an out-of-country cell phone number," she said. "We are trying to make sure how that occurred."
'Swatting' as the practice has been dubbed, isn't just a prank but a serious offense that has netted perpetrators jail sentences. Most recently lawyer Parry Aftab, founder of the children's online safety advocate sites WiredSafety and Stopcyberbulling.org had her home raided by police after a caller claimed a man inside had killed four people and was holding another three hostage.
The call was made from a computer that spoofed a phone number. Police later determined the number wasn't registered to anyone. Aftab and her family weren't home at the time, leading to a three-hour standoff that ended with police shooting tear gas into the home and entering it to find only the family cat.
In June, a SWAT team was called out to the Florida residence of a 15-year-old Xbox player after an online opponent made a hoax 911 call to say there was a home invasion in progress.
Two years ago, a 19-year-old Massachusetts made was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for his part in phone hacking carried out to make false 911 calls.