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Online news mag The Smoking Gun (TSG) claims it to have tracked down the leader of prank call website PrankNET to the suburban flat in Windsor, Ontario he shares with his mum.

PrankNET's stock in trade is to pose as hotel employees, emergency service staff or representatives of fire alarm companies in order to trick their marks into trashing hotel rooms, setting off sprinkler systems or damaging fast food restaurants. These hoaxes are broadcast live on the internet for the twisted pleasure of listeners.

Its tricks include claiming that a ruptured gas line threatened the lives of hotel guests, who were induced to smash open windows and throw out TV sets (on the pretext that a charge from its internal CRT could set off an explosion).

On two occasions, members of the group tricked fast food workers into stripping off clothes outside their restaurants in order to guard against the supposed risk that chemicals released from an outlet's fire suppression system could cause burns. Injuries, hapless workers were told, could be mitigating by urinating on each other.

A wave of these types of destructive pranks across the US prompted internal warnings by Choice Hotels (parent company of Comfort Inn and EconoLodge) and advisories from Orange County (Florida) Sheriff's office, among others. Quite apart from embarrassment it caused and possible health risk (one hotel worker was tricked into drinking a guest's urine in the belief that it was an apple juice sample), PrankNET's stunts have resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage.

PrankNET makes its calls using Skype, the IP telephony service, which for its denizens makes the pranks untraceable. Its members meet in online forums to plot scams.

A disaffected former member of the group helped TSG to track down Dex, on of its PrankNET's leaders, following a seven week investigation chronicling the group's stunts. Two reporters doorstepped Dex - named by TSG as Tariq Malik, 25 - who reportedly responded by hiding in the flat before calling the police. Dex's nickname comes from the titular protagonist of TV series Dexter, a Miami PD blood spatter analyst by day and serial killer of other murderers by night.

The Globe and Mail contacted Dex online after the TSG expose last week. TSG described him as a "sociopath, a mean-spirited sadist" who manipulates "naive and compliant dupes", but Dex compared his "humour" to that of Sacha Baron Cohen. Dex further claimed that TSG had identified the wrong man and that his identity remains a secret.

PrankNET's Twitter and YouTube accounts have been suspended but TSG's story contains links to archived audio clips of PrankNET's calls. ®

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