Swatting - How to Alert Law Enforcement to the Threat Facing You

February 23, 2024

In 2008, the FBI coined a new term to address an alarming rise in fake emergency calls- swatting. Now, 16 years later, swatting cases have become more and more common. They’ve also become more sophisticated and, as a result, more dangerous.  

This guide is here to offer practical advice to individuals who find themselves under attack or are concerned about potential swatting threats looming on the horizon. Read on to learn more about swatting and what you can do to protect yourself against it. 

What is swatting?

Swatting is when a false emergency report is made to the police, typically claiming there's a serious criminal situation underway. The goal is to trick police into sending a SWAT team, which is usually only deployed to deal with high-risk situations. 

Swatters target individuals' homes, places they frequent, or businesses. Incidents can be intended as pranks but may also involve advanced tactics, such as concealing identity and location. In some cases, a group of swatters targets a person or place repeatedly to cause as much trouble and stress as possible.

Swatting puts innocent people at risk. When police receive an emergency call, they treat it like a real crisis and jump into action. As a result, they may rely on violent means and weapons when responding, which can be highly dangerous and result in injury or death. 

Who are the targets of swatting?

Swatters don’t discriminate - incidents can target anyone, regardless of their background or profession. In some cases, whole communities and businesses are hit by swatting, while in others, the focus is on individual people. 

Many high-profile cases have involved celebrities, streamers, and online gamers. By some accounts, swatting began in the world of online gaming, which has long been a breeding ground for online disagreements that can cause real physical harm. Take the 2017 Witchita, Kansas incident, for example, when an argument over an online video game led to a fatal swatting incident. 

Public figures, particularly state and federal government officials, are also victims of swatting. For example, just last month, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s home was swatted. The same day, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterlys home was also targeted. 

Others have involved ordinary people who, for one reason or another, have found themselves the targets of swatters. In 2021, for example, a 60-year-old man from Tennessee tragically passed away when he was swatted by individuals who wanted to take his Twitter username.

Vulnerable communities also find themselves at the mercy of swatters, as seen in the 2023 swatting incident that left a Canadian transgender activist arrested at gunpoint in her home. Or the Old Campus case at Yale University that police believe to be racially motivated. 

When does swatting happen?

Swatting occurs when an individual or group is looking to cause chaos, stress, or harm to unsuspecting victims. They do this by getting ahold of your personal information, like your home address or workplace, to carry out their harassment. There are a number of ways swatters gain access to your information, including: 

Do your best to protect yourself by staying cautious and vigilant when it comes to your online presence and sharing personal information.

Swatting in the US vs. the rest of the world

Though swatting is on the rise in the US, it isn’t a uniquely American phenomenon. There have been publicly documented cases of swatting around the world. For instance, Canada and the UK have seen their share of swatting incidents over the years. 

However, the difference lies in the level of risk involved. Though there are cases of swatting outside of the US, the risk tends to be much lower. When police respond to the situation, they don’t typically respond with as much force. 

This comes down to the fact that police in the US are more militarized compared to their counterparts in other advanced democracies. They receive different training and have access to more military-grade equipment, especially SWAT teams. Plus, police are often trained to view non-officers as potential threats or enemies, especially when it comes to policing people of color.  

As a result, the United States has more police-related deaths than most other wealthy democracies. Swatting incidents aren't an exception to police brutality because they involve fake calls. Unfortunately, far too many swatting incidents in the US have resulted in innocent people losing their lives. 

What you can proactively do about it

If you believe you might be a target of swatting, consider taking these steps to protect yourself and avoid unnecessary emergencies. 

1. Secure Your Data 

First, change all your passwords and let your service providers know that your accounts may be at risk. Keep an eye on your accounts for anything suspicious, and secure your online privacy settings. 

2. Contact your local police non-emergency line

Start by calling the non-emergency number of your local police department or going in person to your local police station. When you speak to an officer, explain the situation and your concerns about potential swatting threats. Though this process can be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst, it's essential that you contact the authorities. 

2. Explain the swatting concept

Ask if they are familiar with the term "swatting." If they aren't, briefly clarify: "Swatting involves maliciously reporting a fake emergency, like a bomb threat or hostage situation, to trigger a large police response at a specific address."

3. Share your personal situation

Inform them that your personal information, including your address, phone number, and, if appropriate, social security number, has been posted on the internet by someone who is harassing or stalking you. Express your worry about potential swatting incidents.

4. Ask for their help

Politely ask for their assistance in case a swatting threat is made against you. Use this script as a reference:

"My personal information, including address/phone number/social security number [as appropriate], were recently posted on the internet by someone who is harassing [or stalking, as appropriate] me. There is a chance that someone may call in a fake bomb or hostage threat at my address as part of the harassment, so I wanted to reach out and let you know that this could happen. If you receive a threat like this for my address, I need you to call my cell phone number before sending emergency responders. This will help prevent a dangerous situation and ensure everyone's safety."

5. Provide your contact info

Give them your cell phone number and any other relevant contact details they may need to reach you quickly.

6. Follow their guidance

Listen to their advice and follow any instructions they provide. They might have specific procedures to handle these situations.

7. Document the Conversation

After your call, make notes, including the date and time, the name of the officer you spoke with (if available), and any instructions they gave you.

Do your best to stay calm and polite when talking to the police. The goal here is to work together to prevent any dangerous situations and keep yourself safe. 

If the police downplay or ignore the danger you’re in, calmly but firmly express your concerns and emphasize the potential risks involved. It's essential to advocate for your safety and ensure that the right measures are taken to address the situation head-on.

What you can do if you’re the victim of swatting

Swatting can be terrifying, and it can have serious consequences. Here are the steps to follow if you become a victim of swatting:

Stay Calm


Report the Incident

Follow up

Swatting isn’t a harmless prank. It’s proven to be highly dangerous, destructive, and life-threatening. That’s why it’s important to reach out for help - you don’t need to go it alone. 

Along with professional support, do your best to take care of yourself if you’re experiencing online harassment, a threat to your safety or going through the aftermath of a swatting incident. 

Swatting doesn’t just impact your physical safety, it can also take a serious toll on your mental and emotional well-being. Self-care looks different for everyone, but if you need a helping hand - check out our resources page for tips, tools, and guidance. 

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