SWAT teams deployed in 911 fraud

By | February 2, 2009

http://www.policeone.com/policeone/data/mp_main_wide_SWATEdina452C.jpgThey were victims of a new kind of telephone fraud that exploits a weakness in the way the 911 system handles calls from Internet-based phone services. The attacks — called “swatting” because armed police SWAT teams usually respond — are virtually unstoppable, and an Associated Press investigation found that budget-strapped 911 centers are essentially defenseless without an overhaul of their computer systems. … wrh

Doug Bates and his wife, Stacey, were in bed around 10 p.m., their 2-year-old daughters asleep in a nearby room. Suddenly they were shaken awake by the wail of police sirens and the rumble of a helicopter above their suburban Southern California home. A criminal must be on the loose, they thought.

Doug Bates got up to lock the doors and grabbed a knife. A beam from a flashlight hit him. He peeked into the backyard. A swarm of police, assault rifles drawn, ordered him out of the house. Bates emerged, frightened and with the knife in his hand, as his wife frantically dialed 911. They were handcuffed and ordered to the ground while officers stormed the house.

The scene of mayhem and carnage the officers expected was nowhere to be found. Neither the Bateses nor the officers knew that they were pawns in a dangerous game being played 1,200 miles away by a teenager bent on terrifying a random family of strangers.

They were victims of a new kind of telephone fraud that exploits a weakness in the way the 911 system handles calls from Internet-based phone services. The attacks — called “swatting” because armed police SWAT teams usually respond — are virtually unstoppable, and an Associated Press investigation found that budget-strapped 911 centers are essentially defenseless without an overhaul of their computer systems.

The AP examined hundreds of pages of court documents and law-enforcement transcripts, listened to audio of “swatting” calls, and interviewed two dozen security experts, investigators, defense lawyers, victims and perpetrators.

While Doug and Stacey Bates were cuffed on the ground that night in March 2007, 18-year-old Randal Ellis, living with his parents in Mukilteo, Wash., was nearly finished with the 27-minute yarn about a drug-fueled murder that brought the Orange County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team to the Bateses’ home.

In a grisly sounding call to 911, Ellis was putting an Internet-based phone service for the hearing-impaired to nefarious use. By entering bogus information about his location, Ellis was able to make it seem to the 911 operator as if he was calling from inside the Bateses’ home. He said he was high on drugs and had just shot his sister.

According to prosecutors, Ellis picked the Bates family at random, as he did with all of the 185 calls investigators say he made to 911 operators around the country.

“If I would have had a gun in my hand, I probably would have been shot,” said Doug Bates, 38. Last March, Ellis was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to five felony counts, including computer access and fraud, false imprisonment by violence and falsely reporting a crime. … – ap

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