A family in North Salt Lake has been under siege lately by someone who keeps calling service providers and ordering work on its behalf. This “stalking on steroids,” as a police sergeant called it, has gone as far as sending drug dealers and prostitutes to the house at all hours.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City police police responded to a false report that someone was shooting people inside a house. This tactic, known as “swatting” because it often results in a SWAT team responding to the call, endangers unwitting residents inside the house whose innocent actions might be misinterpreted as threatening. Police have little choice but to take such calls seriously.
Both incidents might be filed under the title, “Life can be hard in the 21st century,” and then forgotten. But they deserve more attention than that.
The answer may lie in beefing up detection technologies to trace the origins of calls, although tech-savvy criminals are good at masking phone numbers and playing geographic sleight of hand. A Fox 13 news report said the “swatting” caller used a disconnected cell phone that can’t be tracked.
In stalking incidents, governments may want to consider establishing a clearinghouse for victims. Someone being harassed by a stalker could register his or her phone number with an online database that service providers would routinely check before responding to a call. We hesitate to seek a government solution, but sometimes this is the only answer to criminal activity.
It’s clear the North Salt Lake incident has been costly to more than just the family. As the Deseret News reported, an environmental cleanup company in Provo was called and told the house was flooding. Four crews were assembled and responded before learning they had been scammed, at a cost of about $4,000.
Other providers have been called from as far away as Idaho. Pizzas have been sent. Police have been called to the home more than 80 times over four months. The costs keep piling up.
The victim complains that it feels as if the perpetrator is constantly on his front doorstep, even though he may be thousands of miles away. The homeowner has put a sign on his lawn warning providers they probably are being pranked.
Such is the reach of modern technology. Most of what it provides is positive. We may legitimately order items and have them delivered within hours. We can connect with friends and family, or even with doctors, through video calls. But every technological breakthrough also provides criminals with easier ways to do their jobs.
Just ask any retailer whose credit card system has been compromised, or any consumer who has had his or her identity stolen.
Amid all of this, it is sobering to consider how Utah lawmakers just approved the initial steps to allow for electronic driver licenses that could be used as identification. This idea may have merit, but the state must consider possible criminal uses and how to prevent them before proceeding.1 comment on this story
Police say the stalker of the North Salt Lake family may reside in Hawaii. Officials are using voice recognition technology to try to build a case. This is further evidence of how complicated harassment has become in the modern age, where multiple jurisdictions need to cooperate in order to protect the public.
It is important to note that police do take these crimes seriously. As the Deseret News reported recently, a Clearfield man was arrested and charged in connection with a “swatting” incident last summer.
The challenges of modern life will grow as technology advances and more and more common interactions, and financial transactions, occur in cyberspace. The trick is for government and law enforcement to keep up with the bad guys, and for taxpayers to provide the resources necessary.