WHITE LAKE TWP. (WWJ) – Authorities in Oakland County are trying to find out who is behind three emergency calls that all turned out to be cases of “swatting.”
Swatting is a term used to describe a scam in which someone calls 911 and makes a false report. After officials arrive on the scene, whoever made the call often takes photos or video streams the police activity online.
The latest case was reported Sunday morning at a home on Oxbow Lake Road in White Lake Township. A 28-year-old man said he was sound asleep with his girlfriend when police busted into his home and pointed guns at them.
Police apparently responded to the home after receiving a call from a woman who reported hearing shots fired before quickly hanging up the phone. Police searched the home and determined the homeowner was in fact the victim of a swatting call.
Two other similar incidents happened last week in West Bloomfield and Highland Township.
The first case took place on Tuesday after police received a call from a man who claimed he shot his wife, took a neighbor hostage and rigged his home with explosives at the Foxpointe Condominium complex near Orchard Lake and Lone Pine roads. Officers went to the scene and began plans to evacuate residents, but detectives did background checks online and determined the whole thing was a hoax.
The second case took place early Saturday morning after police in Iron Mountain, in the Upper Peninsula, received a call from a man who claimed he shot his mother at a Highland Township home and was about to turn the gun on himself. Officials in the U.P. reported the phone call to police in Harrison Township, who immediately responded to the home — where all residents were found safe and sound.
While investigating the Highland Township case, police discovered the homeowner’s email account was recently hacked by an unknown suspect, who then apparently used the information to make the swatting call via Skype.
Police say all three cases remain open and they will bring felony charges against anyone who is caught.
State laws passed in 2012 make it a felony to falsely report a crime or a medical emergency, with penalties of up to four years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. If someone is injured during the call, the person found guilty of making the phony call can be imprisoned for up to 10 years, and up to 15 years if someone is killed during the response to the prank.
The laws also allow that “swatters” be ordered to reimburse all costs associated with the calls. The FBI has estimated that a swatting incident can cost up to $10,000.