Making prank emergency calls to police is a criminal offence. Although it may seem like a harmless prank, making a hoax call can lead to heavy fines and a prison sentence of up to three years. Fake calls to police can be anything from a hoax call to attend a minor incident to making fake claims of a major incident resulting in an armed response team being called out.
Fraudulent phone calls to police have been in the media recently as the first publicised case of “swatting” in Australia took place in Sydney earlier this month.
What is swatting?
Swatting has, until now, most commonly occurred in the US. Swatting gets its name from the SWAT teams of police who are called to serious incidents. Swatting is where a third party makes a prank call which results in a SWAT team being sent to a specific address. Swatting is often done maliciously to cause havoc for someone the swatter doesn’t like. It can also be done for notoriety and attention and has in a few well publicised cases been used against celebrities in the US.
Why do hoax calls and swatting have such big penalties?
Hoax calls, whether made to police, ambulance or fire services can lead to wasted time and resources and can potentially put lives in danger – someone may be in genuine need of help while emergency services personnel are occupied attending a hoax. The penalties for making a hoax emergency services call are severe to provide a deterrent against people who may be considering carrying out a prank or hoax call.
Can police trace the call to me?
As they are trying to deter members of the public from making prank calls and wasting police time, police will generally take steps to identify a prank caller. If calls are made through a landline or mobile phone it is often possible for emergency services to trace the call.
As computer hackers get more sophisticated in their methods, police will need to start using increasingly advanced ways of tracing the source of fraudulent calls.
What if I didn’t make the hoax call and police say I did?
If you have been a victim of swatting or a hoax call was made from someone pretending to be you, it’s important to let police know as soon as possible. Provide them with access to any mobile phones, computers or other devices which were allegedly used to make the call and speak to a lawyer for advice as soon as you can.
In a recent case in Sydney, a hoax call was made to 000, resulting in over 20 police officers in bullet proof vests swarming on a home in South Sydney after a hoax report of shots being fired at the property. The text message was reportedly sent from a mobile phone belonging to 18 year old Mathew McGrath who lived at the address but he denied sending it.
Police have released Mr McGrath without charge and have confiscated three computers and a mobile phone for further examination. According to hackers it is possible for someone to hack into another person’s laptop or other device and use it to make skype or online phone calls and send messages.
If I’m convicted of making a hoax call to emergency services, what penalties will I face?
Making a hoax call to emergency services is a Commonwealth Offence and falls under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Telecommunications Offences). Improper use of emergency call service comes with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for three years. Under this legislation a person can be found guilty of an offence if they make a call to an emergency service number with the intention of inducing a false belief than an emergency exists.
If you have been charged with making a hoax call to police or any other emergency service, seek legal advice as soon as possible.