LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A Las Vegas family is coming forward to raise awareness of a phenomenon known as "swatting" after Las Vegas police hauled them out at gunpoint in response to a fake call for help.
It's happened to well-known celebrities and it even ended in a deadly police shooting in Kasas; swatting is real and it happens.
A Las Vegas mother tells 13 Investigates her 15-year-old daughter likes to play the popular game Minecraft.
The game is one of the most popular and successful in history with more than 200 million copies sold and 126 million active players worldwide each month.
The objective is to survive and create the universe you want your character to live in.
The game is popular with people of all ages but it's a hit with younger, underage children.
Some users operate a separate chat platform at the same time to communicate.
"Quite a lot of kids use Discord. It's a chat server. That way they can talk to the people they are playing Minecraft with, without other people hearing their conversations or seeing their chat," explained the mother who we will call "Jane."
Jane says her daughter struck up a conversation with a purportedly 18-year-old boy.
The chat turned sexual when he demanded she send nude photos of herself and then made threatening demands.
"It's not a request at this point," read one of the chats provided to 13 Investigates.
"I don't want to show you [my genitalia]," Jane's daughter responded.
More messages indicated there would be consequences if she didn't comply.
"She came to be and said that she had been threatened with swatting and I have never heard of swatting," said Jane.
"She explained that's when the SWAT team comes because a person called in a fake distress call and a SWAT team is at your house and kicks in the door," added Jane.
Swatting is a very real danger as seen in 2017.
Police were dispatched to a Wichita Kansas man's home for an urgent call for help.
Investigators say that incident stemmed from argument made over a bet regarding on-line video game play.
Responding officers shot and killed Andrew Finch, 28, after they feared he was reaching for his waistband.
Finch, a father, was unarmed.
Celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher have also been at the center of swatting incidents.
Jane's daughter was terrified it was going to happen to her when the guy on the other end revealed he knew the family's real Las Vegas address.
Jane called Las Vegas police but was surprised by the reaction.
"I was told that it wasn't enough information to make a report, that it was vague, and it's not a crime for someone to know your address," Jane explained.
Jane says police did not take a report, but nine days later on July 29, another surprise.
"We were sitting around our house and my boyfriend came out of the bedroom and said 'hey, I think I heard police activity telling someone to put their hands up and come outside," said Jane.
The family went outside to investigate and came face to face with Las Vegas police staged outside their home.
"They had their rifles pointed at us, their weapons pointed at us and they said to my boyfriend, 'yes, you in the red shirt, put your hands up and then walk towards us," said Jane.
The family was hauled out, one by one at gun point according to Jane, and then the SWAT team went inside the home and cleared the premises.
"Finally at that point we were told that someone had placed a phone call, not to 911, but to a desk phone at one of the local precincts saying someone had been shot inside of our house," said Jane.
"At that point a light bulb went off and I said, 'Oh My God, this is exactly what my daughter said was going to happen," this is exactly what I tried to report to them, to prevent from happening," added Jane.
Jane believes since the call was not placed to the official 911 number, the call for help was not recorded.
Jane believes the swatter lives outside the United States, perhaps in the U.K.
"Back in 2011, there were only 400 reported incidents of SWATing in the US, in 2019 we're up over 1,000," said Jon Wolfe, CEO of Axiom Cyber Solutions.
Wolfe says swatters use ways to mask their IP addresses, which are the online equivalent of a fingerprint and use chat bots to block their real identity even further.
All of it makes it hard for anyone to know who, or where they are.
The dark web, Wolfe says, is a breeding ground for like minded individuals to do their deeds.
"There's sometimes people who don't necessarily know how to do it and they go to these forums and you can actually hire somebody to do it for you if you don't have the technical capabilities to do it," said Wolfe.
Jane says her daughter blocked the bad guy right after the sexual chats but it didn't stop the SWAT team or the police response days later.
Jane reported the incident to Discord but the platform replied there was nothing much they could do without the actual message links and would not accept screen shots, screen records, or chat bots.
Jane says she is living in fear.
"So many kids are spending time online, especially with school starting out online and the only reason I agreed [to grant 13 Investigates an interview] was because I think parents should know that stuff like this happens," explained Jane.
13 Investigates requested specifics from Las Vegas Police about the incident but we were told the details are part of an on-going investigation.
Seattle Police have created their own swatting database which flags addresses of people who have reported swatting threats made against them.