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A California family that found their apartment surrounded by more than a dozen heavily SWAT armed officers are among the latest victims of swatting, a crime designed to elicit an emergency response by reporting a bogus 911 call.

Officers from the Salinas Police Department rushed to the apartment last Wednesday after receiving a report from someone claiming to be a 15-year-old boy saying three men wielding AK-47 assault weapons were trying to break into his apartment. The caller said he was hiding in a closet to elude the gunmen.

After police evacuated a mother and daughter from the apartment, they discovered another resident, a 15-year-old boy, had been holding an online chat with a person believed to be connected to the dangerous prank. The online acquaintance, who said he was located in Chicago, asked the boy if he heard any sirens approaching around the same time the police were arriving.

Swatting uses a combination of social engineering, phone phreaking and computer hacking to harass individuals. In many cases, the swatter will trick the victim into divulging a physical address and then use a VoIP system to make it look like the victim has initiated an emergency call from his address. This often prompts a response from SWAT teams who conduct emergency raids on the homes of people whose numbers were spoofed.

In the past several weeks, four individuals have pleaded guilty to participating in a series of swatting hoaxes that over a course of five years snared as many as 100 victims and losses of more than $250,000. They face maximum penalties of five years each in prison and fines of $250,000.

A suspect in a separate swatting incident in Orange County, California, faces charges including computer access and fraud, false imprisonment by violence, falsely reporting a crime and assault with an assault weapon by proxy. ®

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