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'Swatting' hoax leads to 'traumatic' night for Richmond Hill family

A Richmond Hill couple with two young children were awoken this morning by a police ETF team with guns drawn — the result of a cruel hoax known as 'swatting.'

'I just saw guns,' says Vincent Yan, who was handcuffed as an ETF team swept through his home

'I just saw guns,' says Vincent Yan, of Richmond Hill, Ont., who was handcuffed as an ETF team swept through his home 2:06

Vincent Yan's family was asleep in their Richmond Hill, Ont., home early this morning when they were awoken by loud bangs on the front door.

Yan walked downstairs, peeked through the eye hole of the door and saw something unexpected: a police ETF team, commonly called a SWAT team, in full tactical regalia. 

"I just saw guns. Big guns," he says.

They yelled at him to open the door and he obliged. 

The police then forced Yan to his knees and handcuffed him. Officers charged through the home, also handcuffing his wife before escorting their two young children out of the house. 

It was a terrifying and traumatic few minutes for Yan and his family. They didn't know what was happening. Eventually it became clear that they were the victims of a cruel prank — and criminal offence — known as 'swatting.'

An unknown caller told York police that a man at Yan's address had shot his family with an assault rifle and was now barricaded inside.

Police responded in full force and other emergency services were also put on alert, their attention drawn from other, real incidents. 

Swatting has become a plague for law enforcement, with similar incidents occurring across North America. While its precise origins are unclear, the prank is popular among the online gaming community. In some instances, gamers make fake calls to police and watch on screen as SWAT teams burst into their friends' homes with guns drawn.

'Shockingly easy'

Earlier this month a Coquitlam, B.C., teen pleaded guilty to 23 charges related to swatting calls directly primarily at his online rivals in the U.S. Last year, a then 16-year-old Ottawa gamer was charged with 60 offences in connection to at least 30 swatting incidents across the continent. 

A number of high-profile American celebrities have also been targetted. 

Yan says he has no idea who may have placed the call and that he needs some time to clean up his house and digest what happened. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)
"It's shockingly easy to do," says technology analyst Carmi Levy, adding that there are websites that can help obscure the origins of calls.

"You can make it seem like you're calling from a local region, from someone else's house. They'll in fact never know who placed the fake call to 911," he says.

York police say they are investigating the call, and take incidents like this very seriously. 

Yan says he has "no idea" who may have placed the call and his family has been left traumatized by what happened.

"Will I be able to sleep peacefully? I really don't know," he says.

With files from CBC's Trevor Dunn

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