ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – “I just called because to let you know that I just shot my neighbor.”
Those words phoned into an emergency dispatch center last month sent Arlington police scrambling. They would later learn that the 911 call was bogus– but, the danger was real.
“We’re responding to what we believe is a shooting in progress,” says Arlington Police Lt. Christopher Cook. “Lights and sirens.”
It’s called ‘swatting’ and police in Arlington are spreading the word and a warning after a family there was targeted.
It all started, police say, with a typical scammer’s call pretending to demand payment from the IRS.
“If you don’t pay this money, we’re going to send the police to your house,” recalls Lt. Cook.
He says the homeowner got agitated and exchanged some choice words with the caller. Then the criminal decided to have the final word, and phoned police– claiming to have shot his neighbor. And get this: through a process called ‘spoofing’, the caller was able to appear as though he was calling from the homeowner’s phone and from his actual address.
“So we have 15 units responding; plus, fire and EMS units!” says Lt. Cook. “The guy is also telling our dispatcher ‘I’m not going to put the gun down because I have it for my protection. I’ll see you when you get here’ and disconnects.”
Arlington police say their officers responded to the home in South Arlington quickly– but, cautiously. Was this call perhaps an ambush targeting them?
Doorbell video from the home shows terrified family members filing from the home with their hands in the air as police call them from the home on loudspeakers– but, the danger, for at least one of them, isn’t over.
“One of the individuals walking out– he put his right hand up, but he had his left hand behind his back because he didn’t speak English and we’re telling him ‘get your hands up, both hands up’. There’s a language barrier,” says Lt. Cook, recalling the close call. “Luckily, somebody was yelling in his native language and he was able to get his hands up. But, yeah, a very scary ordeal.”
Police are also furious about the squandered resources– and the ever present potential for such a call to turn deadly.
“There’s a case right now where a caller in California called in something in Kansas and someone lost their life,” added Lt. Cook. “They are prosecuting that individual in California for that death.”
Arlington police now hope that the same technology that allowed the criminal to create such a scene, will at some point allow detectives to catch him. But, realistically officials know that the call could well have originated in another country.
So what to do?
Lt. Cook says it’s a question the department is already getting.
“If you recognize it’s a scammer, don’t even engage. Don’t rile ’em up. Just hang up.”
He says if you become a victim of such a vicious attack, “follow lawful commands” and remain calm.
Finally, remember that with technology in the hands of criminals, just because you didn’t call 911, doesn’t mean that someone else hasn’t.