Do you know what swatting means? If your child plays Fortnite or any other multi-player game, then you better learn fast! Swatting is an increasingly frequent prank where someone makes a false police report, usually of a violent crime, with the intention of sending law enforcement to a specific location to the residence of a person who’s done something to annoy or anger them. Swatters often use caller ID spoofing and other tactics to make the call appear legitimate while simultaneously hiding their identities. With many gamers live-streaming their gameplay, swatting has become a disturbingly common practice
Last month, several Dunwoody area schools were swatted causing public panic and the schools to be briefly locked down. These swatting cases ended up being a harmless prank, however, a swatting incident in Wichita, Kansas turned deadly.
On Dec. 28, 2017, 28-year-old Andrew Finch, was the unintended victim of a swatting prank and was shot and killed by police. The swatter, Tyler Barriss, was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, but many swatting cases go unsolved because swatters employ techniques such as caller ID spoofing, TTY relay technologies, and social engineering to make themselves hard to trace. Barriss admitted to swatting more than a hundred people before being arrested. According to the FBI, approximately 400 swatting cases occur each year. Despite being well-documented, there isn’t much that law enforcement can do to prevent swatting from happening.
Gaming communities, once a benign culture, are now plagued by rivalries and grievances that can quickly turn toxic. Reasons for swatting range from an online altercation to just plain boredom. Gamers who broadcast their gameplay on live-streaming services, such as Twitch, are attractive targets because the public can watch the swatting event play out in real time.
When swatters target a victim, they start looking for personally identifiable information on their victims and seek to capture the IP address of the victim’s computer. An IP address can be used to determine the location of a computer or where it was registered. Then additional information can be researched online through property records and other public databases. In the Dunwoody area schools swatting case, it is suspected that the swatter obtained information from the victim during conversations in Fortnite, a hugely popular online game, with more than 40 million people logging in to play each month.
With nearly one-third of children playing online games against people they have never met, it is more important than ever to teach our young gamers that they need to do everything they can to ensure they do not leak any information on their location or identity. Here are some safety reminders to share with your gamers to keep them safe in an increasingly risky environment:
• Turn on the game’s privacy settings
• Not everyone online is who they say they are
• Do not share personal information with other gamers online
• If live-streaming, do not wear clothing that identifies the school you attend and make sure that you are not displaying personally identifiable objects in the background
• Keep gaming friends in the game – don’t add them to other social networks
• Meeting someone in person that you have met online can be dangerous
Gaming sites often have ways of reporting abusive chat and excluding anti-social players. Make sure your child knows how to do this. Read each game’s advice for parents and play the game yourself to help you understand more about how the game your child is playing works and its appropriateness.
With a little bit of sense and a few good conversations about safety, you can help your children enjoy the fun of online gaming while staying safe.
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