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SWAT chaos 'mastermind' pleads guilty

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An Ohio man faces an extended spell behind bars after pleading guilty to making emergency calls using spoofed caller ID numbers as part of a prank designed to make sure his victims were raided by SWAT teams.

Stuart Rosoff (AKA Michael Knight) of Cleveland, Ohio was part of a gang of "swatters" that used social engineering tricks to find the phone number of intended victims, selected from members of telephone chat lines frequented by Rosoff and his cronies. The gang - one of them blind - used VoIP connections to place calls about fake hostage crises to regular police lines, ensuring that their victims would receive a visit from armed cops.

Typically the gang would claim that the caller was heavily armed, high on drugs and had already killed members of his family. The childish ruse cost disruption to emergency services and claimed 100 victims as well as running up an estimated $250,000 in losses. At least two of the victims received injuries including an infirm, elderly man from New Port Richey, Florida. Rosoff admitted knowledge of the man's injuries, according to court documents.

The gang, allegedly led by Rosoff, are blamed for more than 60 "SWAT" calls. Many of the victims were selected from the friends and family of participants in multiple party chat line groups including Jackie Donut, the Seattle Donut, and the Boston Loach frequented by Rosoff and three of his co-defendants.

Using a mixture of social engineering techniques (including pretexting), the gang obtained contact details of their victims. At the same time, they used hacking techniques to obtain free phone calls, which they used to place bogus emergency calls, or to switch off the service of enemies.

A DoJ statement on the case gives further details on the misguided pranks. As Wired notes the release of details of the alleged crimes (several of which took place in 2006) eased fears that the emergency 911 system itself was hacked.

Rosoff recently pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in a federal court in the Northern District of Texas. He faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution. Rosoff has been held in remand since his arrest in June.

The three other alleged conspirators in the scam - Jason Trowbridge, Angela Roberson and Chad Ward - were all arrested in June. Robertson, who was released on bail, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in October. Trowbridge and Ward, who are both in custody, face a trial due to begin on 17 December. Another co-conspirator Guadalupe Santana Martinez, of Washington, faces a sentencing hearing in January 2008 after pleading guilty to conspiracy.

Wired adds that the alleged hacking mastermind behind the prank calls was a blind youngster from Boston, identified in three separate guilty pleas as "M.W." ®

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