A California teenager has been busted on suspicion of making hoax bomb threats as part of an online "swatting" gaming group that made similar calls in five states and Canada, said law enforcement authorities.
The teen, whose name was not released, is accused of making three bomb threats against a San Diego high school, police told the Los Angeles Times. He's believed to be part of a national "swatting" cyber ring. "Swatting" means making a false report to trigger a response by a Special Weapons And Tactics — SWAT — team.
Swatters are often part of cyber gangs who boast to one another about their fake emergency calls and compete with one another to see who can get the biggest response based on fake calls about bomb threats, hostage situations, gun scares and unfolding mass murders.
The FBI launched an investigation last year into a group of American and British swatters called ISISGang that often linked their prank calls over an eight-month period to terrorists, and cost US response teams some $1m (£644,594), reports Computerland.
One suspected member of that online community, which had been known previously as "Team Crucifix or Die," skyped a bomb threat to the University of Connecticut last year, according to authorities. The alert triggered a "multiple hour, campus-wide lockdown" that drew college police, a state bomb squad and SWAT teams to the scene, said court documents.
The 21-year old son of a state Trooper, Matthew Tollis, was arrested in that prank. He said the crew met as X-box gamers online to plot and boast about their pranks.
Observers say the calls are cyber crews' attempt at manipulating reality to recreate their own "games."
But a spokesman for a county prosecutor in New Jersey, where swatting is increasing, said: "We don't know their motive. We don't know if they're simply doing this for their own entertainment or if it is something more sinister being done by an organisation or group who have future plans for an actual attack and who are using this to practice or to study our response."