US police grapple with rise of bigger pranks

US police grapple with rise of bigger pranks
Police stand outside reppar Lil Wayne's home where shots were reported to have been fired on March 11, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida.

WASHINGTON - When Florida police got a call from a man who said he shot four people at rapper Lil Wayne's house this month, they responded as they are trained to.

Heavily armed, flanked in body armour and accompanied by sniffer dogs, officers surrounded the Miami mansion after the alleged shooter told the 911 dispatch: "I'm killing whoever else I see..."

But police found no shooter at the house, and no victims. Lil Wayne was not there either.

The rapper was the target of a "swatting" prank, a phenomenon gaining popularity in the United States and creating public safety risks and budget strains for law enforcement.

The stunt -- a modern-day and much more serious version of a prank call -- involves a call to emergency services claiming a crisis.

When police arrive, the alarmed victim is often greeted by angry bangs at the door from screaming officers with cocked guns.

Special weapons and tactics (SWAT) units are usually dispatched -- which the term swatting comes from -- because they are trained to deal with serious emergencies swatters typically falsely report, such as hostage taking, mass shootings, bomb threats and domestic violence.

Following the false alarm at Lil Wayne's mansion, Miami police said on Twitter: "Unfortunately this appears to be a 'Swatting' call. No victims /no injuries /no subject at 94 LaGorce."

Police are obliged to respond to emergency calls, but say such pranks are a waste of resources.

"Fortunately in terms of no one hurt yes. Unfortunate in the waste of resources for a hoax that we have to treat seriously," Miami Police tweeted.

Lil Wayne is not the only celebrity swatting victim.

Famous Hollywood prankster, Ashton Kutcher, host of the hoax show "Punk'd," has been swatted, along with Justin Bieber, Rihanna, P.Diddy, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cruise and Miley Cyrus.

Swatters have also hit politicians, journalists and schools.

Live-stream swatting 

The phenomenon of swatting was first reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2008, and has steadily gained popularity since.

Officials estimate about 400 swattings occur every year, but many no longer report incidents to prevent copycat acts and to avoid giving swatters publicity.

The hoax is popular in the online gaming community, where swatters target online rivals who are live-streaming a game. When police arrive, the stunt is broadcast in real-time.

Swatting videos show victims at their computers when they are interrupted by loud bangs at the door followed by heavily armed police storming their homes.

Perpetrators target online rivals and access their addresses by hacking their computers.

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