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More false reports of shooters spreading through schools, hospitals

A cybersecurity expert says false reports of crime, called "swatting," are putting people in danger.
More false reports of shooters spreading through schools, hospitals
Posted at 7:10 PM, Apr 13, 2023

False reports of shooters are spreading through schools, colleges and hospitals across the nation, putting officials on edge.

"Swatting is basically the action of making hoax phone calls to falsely report serious crimes to emergency services and law enforcement," said Dr. Christopher Mansour, co-founder and assistant professor of cybersecurity programs at Mercyhurst University.

These callers use information collected through the action of doxing,"a technique where information that is available on social media, information that is available on organizational charts, are collected and sold on the dark web or are available publicly," Mansour said.

Mansour said the ultimate goal of swatters is to get law enforcement agents to respond to a scene of a fabricated threat. But the calls could stop response teams from answering real emergencies and unintentionally endanger lives.

"You have students, you have professors, you have staff that could cause a little bit of havoc or a conflict — a real nerve-wracking incident," Mansour said. "Sometimes that could lead to a deadly situation."

In 2017, a police officer in Kansas shot and killed a man while responding to a false emergency call.

Just this past weekend, universities and hospitals across the country have become the latest targets, including:

- Fake calls of an active shooter at the University of Oklahoma

- Reports of a person with an AR-15 forcing a lockdown at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan

- Calls sending police to the library at Middlebury College in Vermont

- Police responding to calls for active shooters on two locations at Boston University

SEE MORE: School swatting incidents reported in wake of Tennessee mass shooting

These false alarms could also cause psychological consequences.

One superintendent in Cincinnati, Ohio described pandemonium at his school after someone called 911 to report an active shooter early last month.

"A number of people texted family members, 'I love you. I might not see you tonight.' We still have staff and students that are still unpacking that, still dealing with the feelings that they had that day," Dr. Charles Ogdan said.

Mansour said there's no clear answer as to why people do this, but he has an idea.

"They do that for a prank, or they do that sometimes for financial gain or for having a grudge or revenge," he said.

The FBI says some of the fake reports may be computer-generated calls coming from outside of the country.

Sen. Chuck Schumer announced this week he plans to advocate adding $10 billion to the federal government's budget to fund a cyber-swatting team at the FBI.

Last week, swatting became a felony in Ohio. Now violators could spend 18 months in prison, and if someone gets hurt, violators could face years behind bars.

A number of other states have passed laws toughening penalties for swatting, too. In Illinois, it's a felony that can force fake callers to pick up the cost of authorities responding. And Wednesday in Granite City, Illinois, that included helicopters, SWAT trucks and dozens of police officers.

Mansour said to protect yourself, your family or your company from becoming a target of these criminals, limit the amount of information you share online so that people won't be able to create a credible scenario.

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