|Updated: 12/10/2007 5:09 pm
||Published: 12/10/2007 9:37 am
Advances in technology have led to amazing developments like DVDs, smart phones and MP3 players, but those advances have also created the ideal means for some dangerous hackers. A new technique called phone spoofing is letting callers legally change the number that shows up on somebody's caller ID and it's led to some potentially dangerous situations.
Nineteen-year old Ronald Ellis of Washington State is the latest to be arrested for a dangerous fad called "swatting" or “phone-spoofing.” He's accused of calling 9-1-1, pretending to be a deranged killer who has hostages, and ultimately directing the responding S.W.A.T. team to the home of an unsuspecting victim.
Police say it's only a matter of time before one of these hoaxes turns deadly, either for the innocent or the cops.
"They are endangering themselves and other people trying to get there. Once they get there, they're setting up on a house thinking there's somebody inside there trying to kill somebody inside or possibly kill them," says Larry Cole.
The technology is legal and easily available through companies like Phone Gangster and Telespoof. They allow users to send out any phone number they want on caller ID.
"Most people just play pranks on their friends, or businesses. If they're on vacation and they don't want their private cell phone numbers to show up they'll spoof it as their business and call clients or something like that," says Matt Leppala with phonegangster.com
The dark side of spoofing is on the rise. Ellis is accused of hoaxes in Arizona, Washington and Pennsylvania. A group in Ohio was just busted for 60 swattings. And there's little the phone companies can do, but congress is considering 2 bills that would increase the penalty to five years for this kind of fraud and harassment.
"We need to stop this immediately by sending a strong message to those who think it's funny, think it's a joke, when in fact, someone could get killed,” says Republican Dave Reichert.
Officials say the typical swatter is either a teenager or in his early 20's and their victims are most often people who have insulted them in computer chat rooms. While difficult to track through phone lines, the criminals are increasingly getting busted when they slip-up and use the internet to place their bogus 9-1-1 calls.
Another way scam artists use phone spoofing is to pose as a caller from your bank or credit card company. Police say if you do get a call from your bank they will not ask you for your account number so don't give it out unless you are the one who makes the call.