A Facebook executive was the target of a swatting hoax that resulted in armed police briefly detaining him and searching his home as they investigated a false report of an active shooting and hostage situation involving pipe bombs, Palo Alto, California, Police Department officials said.
The incident started a little after 9pm on Tuesday when someone using an untraceable number identified himself as a Facebook executive and reported he had shot his wife and taken his children hostage, department officials reported in a statement. The male caller went on to say he had deployed pipe bombs and planned to harm police if they came to the residence.
The call resulted in a “significant police response” that included trained crisis negotiators. They used a public address system to contact the people inside the home. Two residents came outside as police searched the residence. Police ultimately determined that no shots had been fired, no pipe bombs had been deployed, and no children were in the house.
According to this report from The Palo Alto Daily Post, the Facebook executive was in charge of cybersecurity at the social media giant. The publication also said that the caller stayed on the phone with police as they responded and that the executive was briefly handcuffed as police searched his home.
So-called swatting incidents are often considered pranks in hacking circles. In fact, they are pernicious crimes that consume limited resources and have sometimes resulted in police officers shooting and killing targets. As swatting crimes have grown more common, many police departments have become better trained in responding to them.
Facebook issued a statement that read: “We thank the city of Palo Alto for their swift and thoughtful response. They quickly identified this as a prank, and we are glad that our colleague and his family are safe.”
Facebook declined to identify the executive or to confirm he worked in cybersecurity.