The internet is part of our daily lives now, an amazing space to which we’re connected almost every hour of every day. We do our work online, we connect with friends and family online, and we game online. Swatting is a phenomenon that occurs mostly in the gaming community – though not exclusively so.
What is Swatting
Swatting involves a type of harassment technique mostly perpetrated by members of the online gaming community. When someone swats another individual, they generate an emergency law enforcement response against their victims. What needs to be understood with swatting, however, is that these false emergency situations are usually fairly serious in nature. When swatters make phone calls to emergency lines, like 911, for example, they report a violent emergency situation, ranging from hostage situations to shooting situations.
It may sound like a prank, but the results of swatting can be, and have been, very serious in nature. First, since these are false emergencies, swatting takes emergency service people, like the police or paramedics, away from real emergencies. It drains resources and risks the lives of others who really need help. On the other hand, some swatting incidents resulted in law enforcement officers being shot, and where victims of swatting were shot dead by police who were sent to the location.
While swatting now carries heavy penalties for those who make these false emergency claims against others, it’s a phenomenon that continues. Additionally, when swatters report these fake emergencies, they tend to use caller ID spoofing techniques to keep their own identities protected. Even though countries like the US penalize swatters, this is a practice that we need to be aware of and prevent from happening to us. There’s always a place for pranks, but pranks that reach the level of swatting can have disastrous consequences. Here’s how to avoid being swatted in 2020.
How to Prevent Swatting
Anyone internet user can be a victim of swatting, but the reality is that this is a phenomenon that happens to gamers mostly. Of course, this isn’t to say that the rest of us should remain blissfully unaware – swatting usually involves malicious intent, to some degree, so it’s useful to be aware of and understand how an online threat like this works and how to avoid it.
Gamers Should Not Divulge Personal Information
For gamers, extra caution needs to be exercised while on gaming platforms or online forums. First and foremost, avoid disclosing any information about your actual identity or where you stay while you’re engaged on in-game chat channels and gaming forums. Create an awesome screen name, yes, but also ensure that your screen names don’t make it easy for strangers to identify you.
Hide Your IP with a VPN
For gamers and the rest of us, one of the best ways to be active on gaming channels is to keep your IP address hidden, so it would be really beneficial to use a VPN. Swatters will have a much more difficult time trying to locate you using your IP address, since VPNs mask your IP address.
Installing a VPN has a host of other features, too. First, it hides your IP address which keeps your location a secret and helps you to avoid being swatted. This is a big one, as it keeps the digital you separate, to some degree, from your physical self and your location. If you’re always gaming at home, for example, this is a great way to keep your home, your safe space, safe from strangers that you might be slaughtering in the virtual world.
Hackers, just like swatters, will have difficulty in locating your IP address, too. Another bonus that a VPN offers is the option to change it, geographically. This lets you browse viewing selections from the Netflix libraries in other countries!
Remove Your Information from the Internet
You’ve created accounts all over the internet – social media accounts, online shopping platforms, gaming platforms, government websites, etc. Wherever you created an account, you left a trail of information, willingly typing in your email address, mobile number, name and last name, and, importantly, physical address.
So, how do you begin to remove your personal information from the internet? Start by not allowing your browser or online shopping platforms from saving your credit card details. This is really important for your general safety. Deleting your information from social media sites is a good place to start, too. After all, it’s not as difficult as you think for hackers and potential swatters to find your social media profiles if they’re determined to have you swatted.
People finder websites have more publicly accessible information about you than you might realize. Yes, this includes your physical address and any other sensitive information that’s available publicly.
The question is, how to prevent swatting if your information is already on these sites? You’ve got the option of manually requesting that people finder (or people search) websites remove your information from their sites. However, when information gets removed from these directories, they tend to show up again a few months later, which means you’ll have to be sure to keep checking and requesting a removal again. Alternatively, OneRep will automatically have your info removed from 108 data broker sites, like these people finder websites, and will keep checking for you, when your information pops up again.
Don’t Overshare with Strangers
Idle chatting while gaming, or playing seemingly innocent text-based games over Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, can lead to you unknowingly giving out personal information that you wouldn’t share otherwise. Be aware of what information you’re disclosing about yourself when using social media and think about how it could possibly be linked to some of your password retrieval questions or security questions that you’d be asked when logging on from a new device.
Also, anytime you share or post information online, including location and financial details, ID and passport details, and even photos, the possibility of being swatted is higher. Of course, there are some websites or platforms that require you to do so, but it’s necessary to keep your guard up. At the least, never send personal information over messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger or Instagram direct messages.