Fairfax journalist victimized by ‘SWATing’ swarmed by police

March 15, 2013

A journalist specializing in reporting on cybercrime apparently is the latest victim of “SWATing,” the growing practice of calling in a false report to lure a massive SWAT response to someone else’s home.

Brian Krebs, a former Washington Post reporter who now runs the Krebs on Security Web site, got an unexpected visit from about 10 Fairfax County police officers after someone “spoofed” his cellphone number to make it appear that a call came from him. The SWAT team never was called, but Krebs was handcuffed and briefly questioned before police realized what had happened.

Previous high-profile targets of SWATing have included Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber and Clint Eastwood.

In the Fairfax case, a caller told police that Russians had broken into his home and shot his wife, Krebs said. A police dispatcher called back to confirm the report, but Krebs said he was busy vacuuming and didn’t answer the phone.

About 10 bike and patrol officers arrived at Krebs’s house about 5:40 p.m., Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said. Krebs said he opened the front door for unrelated reasons and saw several officers around his house, guns drawn.

“Don’t move! Put your hands in the air!” Krebs said he was told. Then he was told to walk backward into a nearby parking lot. He did and was handcuffed.

But Krebs quickly detected that a hoax had been perpetrated. In fact he had filed a report with Fairfax police in August saying that such a SWATing call might happen, because of threats he was receiving from online groups that were the subject of his reporting.

On Wednesday, Krebs wrote about online groups that sell illegal access to consumer credit reports. The next day, he received a phony letter from the FBI about his Web site, followed by attempts to take it down before the armed Fairfax police visit.

Initially, Krebs said, he was bewildered. “Then when I noticed the size and sheer kill potential of the police force aimed at me and assembled around my home, that was replaced by alarm and horror. After being handcuffed, I was mostly just annoyed,” he said.

Krebs said an officer looked into his house, while another asked if he had filed the report about a possible SWATing. Then he was uncuffed, and Krebs said the officer apologized for the inconvenience. The event lasted less than 10 minutes.

“I don’t fault them at all,” Krebs said of the police response. “I would like to see some kind of coordinated national effort to raise awareness of these types of crimes and hopefully bring those responsible to justice.”

The FBI has been advising people of the dangers of SWATing for years, but it doesn’t speak much about it for fear of spreading the idea. A local law enforcement official said a federal investigation was underway into the Krebs incident, but the FBI was unable to confirm that Friday.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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