What is "swatting"? For Hollywood stars who've been victims of swatting, it's a potentially dangerous, high-profile prank. It's also illegal.
Just last week, police busted a 12-year-old boy for celebrity swatting pranks that targeted Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher, TMZ reports. Prosecutors are considering whether or not to pursue criminal charges.
So what exactly takes place in a celebrity swatting prank? It's similar to a prank call. But instead of calling the celebrity, the caller calls 911 or the police.
The anonymous caller will typically report that there is an ongoing crime happening at the celebrity's home like a hostage situation or shooting, reports the Los Angeles Times.
While police are aware of swatting pranks, they still must respond to emergency calls as if they're genuine. As a result, heavily armed SWAT teams often respond to a call at a celebrity's home, prepared to do battle.
Along with Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher, "The X Factor's" Simon Cowell has also been the victim of swatting, the Times reports. Over the summer, a police convoy also set up a perimeter with weapons drawn around Miley Cyrus' home.
Several officers have reportedly been injured while responding to such calls, according to the Times. But so far, no celebrities have been hurt, and no one has been killed.
But just because serious injury has so far been averted, this does not make celebrity swatting legal. Unlike your run-of-the-mill prank call, swatting is unlawful because the caller is making a false report of a crime. Falsely reporting a crime, along with the improper use of 911, are typically considered misdemeanors in most jurisdictions.
However, if someone is injured as a result of the false report, the caller could face felony charges and additional time behind bars. For example, someone convicted of a swatting incident that results in injury in California, where most swatting calls have occurred, could be sent to prison and fined up to $10,000.
- California minor arrested in Bieber, Kutcher 'swatting' hoaxes (Reuters)
- Justin Bieber Murder-Castration Plot: Alleged Hitmen Arrested (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- Can Prank Calls Get You Arrested? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- The Crime of False Report of a Crime (FindLaw's New York Criminal Law Blog)