Using technology for all the wrong reasons
Published 6:01 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2023
They lurk in the shadows, usually behind a computer screen, waiting for their next victim.
No, this isn’t about some sicko that preys on innocent children but the nature of their crime is nearly as bad.
Two young men were indicted last week in federal court for the crime of “swatting.” When I first read the story online I was oblivious to that term. Come to find out that swatting is, according to the FBI, a hoax call made to emergency services, typically reporting an immediate threat to human life, to draw a response from law enforcement and the S.W.A.T. team to a specific location.
Kya Christian Nelson, 21, of Racine, Wisconsin, and James Thomas Andrew McCarty, 20, of Charlotte, NC allegedly acquired, without authorization, the username and password information for Yahoo email accounts belonging to victims throughout the United States. Then, according to a Dec. 19 press release from the US Department of Justice / Central District of California, they allegedly determined whether the owner of each compromised Yahoo account also had a Ring account using the same email address and password that could control associated internet-connected Ring doorbell camera devices. Using that information, they identified and gathered additional information about their victims, according to the indictment.
Nelson and McCarty allegedly placed false emergency reports or telephone calls to local law enforcement in the areas where the victims lived. These reports or calls were intended to elicit an emergency police response to the victim’s residence, the indictment alleges.
For example, on Nov. 8, 2020, Nelson and an accomplice accessed, without authorization, Yahoo and Ring accounts belonging to a victim in West Covina, CA. A hoax telephone call was placed to the West Covina Police Department purporting to originate from the victim’s residence and posing as a minor child reporting her parents drinking and shooting guns inside the residence of the victim’s parents.
In another incident in Florida, McCarty, Nelson and an unindicted co-conspirator (who is a juvenile) called the police department, claiming to be a man who had just killed his wife, the indictment said. He was also accused of saying that he had a hostage in the home and that he had rigged it with explosives.
Other similar incidents are said to have happened in seven other states, including one in nearby Chesapeake, VA.
And…get this…to pour the proverbial salt into the wound, Nelson and McCarty are also accused of accessing the Ring devices and live-streaming the audio and video on social media as authorities responded to the hoax calls, while allegedly taunting officers and residents through the cameras.
Back in the day, if I had pulled such a stunt, I would have been “swatted” across my backside by daddy’s belt.
Nelson is currently incarcerated in Kentucky after he allegedly called police there in January 2021 saying there was an active shooter at a local school.
According to the Murray Ledger & Times, Nelson was charged by the Murray Police Department after making phone calls to MPD dispatch on the morning of Jan. 26, 2021, to report an active shooting at the campus. The call triggered a response from MPD and multiple other Murray and Calloway County emergency agencies before it was eventually determined that there had not been any shooting. The next day, a bomb threat was received, and once again, law enforcement found nothing.
He pleaded guilty in March 2022 and was sentenced to seven years in prison for the crimes of terroristic threatening.
Nelson’s attorney, Don Thomas, read a statement from his client saying he was very sorry for the disruption and pain he caused.
“He wants to apologize to the people of Murray and apologize, of course, to the Murray High School students and their faculty and staff, law enforcement and first responders,” Thomas said. “It was extremely stupid what he did, and he wants to apologize to the city of Murray as well.”
Calloway Circuit Judge Jamie Jameson told Nelson that everyone has done things in their youth they aren’t proud of, but his crime went far beyond that.
“I’m sure in my youth there were more silly things I did than I care to remember, and some that I probably should have been punished a bit more for than I was,” Jameson said. “But it never rose to something like this, and that’s the difference here. There are young people who make silly mistakes, but most of them are dealt with in District Court downstairs because they don’t rise to the severity of what happened here. This could have been a very dangerous situation, and it certainly alarmed a lot of people, including folks who work in this courthouse.”
McCarty is also accused of making at least 18 calls to police and schools threatening attacks.
Earlier this month, multiple schools across North Alabama were affected by swatting incidents…claims of active shooters on those campuses. Those hoax calls are currently still under investigation.
In the federal case, both men are charged with one count of conspiracy to intentionally access computers without authorization. Nelson also was charged with two counts of intentionally accessing without authorization a computer and two counts of aggravated identity theft.
If convicted of conspiracy, each of the men faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. Conviction of intentionally accessing the devices without authorization carries a maximum sentence of five years, while the charge of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence.
Meanwhile, the FBI encourages those with smart home devices with cameras and voice capabilities to use complex, unique passwords and enable two-factor authentication to help protect against “swatting” attacks.
The FBI urges anyone who believes they may have been victimized to make a police report. If you believe your e-mail or other smart device credentials were compromised, you should report the incident at www.ic3.gov.
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.