Last update: 08.12.2019

Back in 2015, a gamer based in Minnesota was one of the first subjects of a trolling technique called swatting. As soon as this event went viral, numerous other instances happened across the USA and the rest of the world. Even today, it seems like swatting, as dangerous as it can be, is still highly popular.

So, what is swatting exactly? How can others find your personal information, and how to prevent this situation from happening? Let’s find out.

What is swatting?

Swatting is a form of harassment with the goal of getting an emergency law enforcement response against a victim. It usually involves calling 911 and reporting a false emergency serious enough to dispatch one or more emergency teams to the provided victim’s address.

The first instance related to swatting happened in 2008, according to the FBI. This is when a man from California called 911 and reported murder by giving a false address. A local SWAT team appeared on the scene only to find a married couple with two young children. The situation quickly escalated, but luckily, no one was injured. Soon after, the man who called 911 got arrested.

How does swatting happen?

The central part of this prank consists of your personal information. After all, the prankster needs to know your name, address, or other similar information to be able to place a 911 call.

Here’s how a prankster can find out your private data.

  • Searching the web. Sometimes all it takes is to run a search query to find the victim’s address and real name.
  • Getting to your IP address: every time you connect to the web, you get a unique IP address. You’ll be surprised to know that you don’t need to be a hacker to find someone’s IP, which then leads to your physical location data as well.
  • Getting geo-location via metadata: to be able to live-stream, you need to have a camera. And the majority of today’s popular camera models encode geo-location. This information is typically read by software capable of creating albums based on specific events or places. Well, this information is also exposed when you live-stream as there’s no re-encoding involved.
  • Advanced hacking methods: lastly, someone can find your personal information by planting malware into your computer. Hackers can create phishing emails with attractive offers, making you click on a link that usually takes you to a bogus website. This is where your private information can be picked up from.

After obtaining your personal information, pranksters and hackers use IP spoofing services to call 911. This makes it appear as if they’re calling from your home. And this is how a SWAT team can show up at your house.

Who become the victims of swatting?

As we entered the era of fast web connections and live-streaming, numerous individuals unknowingly exposed their private information online.

Among those, there’s a large group of gamers who broadcast online and get interrupted in the middle by a SWAT team entering their home. But that also includes celebrities like Rihanna or Justin Bieber and virtually anyone who has enough personal information available on the web.

However, there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of a swatting prank and help put an end to this dangerous trolling activity.

4 tips on how to protect yourself from swatting

Luckily, there are numerous methods to hide your personal information online. With a bit of effort on your part, you can eliminate any chances of becoming a victim of swatting. So, here’s what you need to know.

1. Use a trustworthy VPN service

Plenty of information is being transmitted every time you connect to the web. And your real-time location can easily pop up when you live-stream. To prevent this information from appearing on the internet, we recommend using a VPN service.

VPNs are designed to help you become entirely anonymous online. They hide your true IP address, encrypt all internet traffic, secure public wifi connections, and can even stop malware. While there are many great VPN providers to choose from, you can’t miss by choosing NordVPN – the safest of them all.

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2. Avoid exposing your data via social media

Take a good look at your online profiles and remove the information you’ve exposed about yourself. Don’t forget the images whose metadata can pose a risk. And also, always use a VPN when posting on social media.

This especially goes for those who broadcast online, as their social media profiles often put them in danger.

3. Secure your online accounts

Even if you delete your sensitive information from the web, there’s a chance that someone might try to get to your social media credentials. By logging into your account, they can see different kinds of information that aren’t presented publicly.

A good way to secure your online accounts is by using 2-factor authentication (2FA), which is offered by all major online services these days. This technique allows you to have an additional security layer when logging in, disabling numerous hacking attempts in the process.

4. Be smart when live streaming online

Lastly, you need to be aware of everything you say online – especially during live streaming. Remember that real people are watching your stream, and they can even record it. Therefore, be aware of your surroundings. Remove anything that might point to your physical location, including your address and also the name of the city you live in.