NORTH PORT — A North Port man phoned police Friday, confessing that he had caught his wife cheating, shot the other man, had explosives in the home and was self-reporting the mayhem.
The problem was it never happened. It was learned later that the victims’ home near Price Boulevard had been hacked through a doorbell device. A so-called swatter had remotely accessed the home’s Ring doorbell and had phoned police, portraying himself as the husband.
“Things weren’t adding up, necessarily,” police spokesperson Josh Taylor said. “But we took all the precautions necessary.”
Swatting is defined as a hoax intended as mischief. But some criminals use the tactic to draw emergency workers somewhere, either to create chaos, or to keep them busy as other crimes occur.
The hacker in North Port, however, was likely acting maliciously, at least police considered it so and swarmed the neighborhood and circled the home near Glenallen Elementary. The school went on lockdown and minutes later a woman inside the home was ordered outside.
“I thought it was a joke, at first,” said Sarah Courtney, whose husband Jack was in Okeechobee on a work assignment when a North Port police officer called her cell phone. He asked that she step from the home, which she did, and was rushed instantly by a Quick Response Team unit. She was not harmed and had only praise for North Port Police.
“I was like ‘what the heck.’ It’s a scary side of society.”
Sarah Courtney untangled things later Friday: The hacker had duped Ring, a home-security system owned by Amazon. It’s a doorbell ringer with a camera that consumers access from cell phones or tablets. Watching in real time, users listen and talk through the device. The lens depicts a good chunk of the viewing area.
The hacker had accessed Sarah Courtney’s Ring pass code, flipped passwords and engineered the drama that unfolded about 1:40 p.m. Friday.
North Port Police had contacted Jack Courtney, checking in when Sarah surfaced as more baffled than anything. The couple’s two kids, a boy and girl, were at school. Glenallen’s lockdown was lifted after 30 minutes.
“I think it was incredibly random,” Sarah Courtney said. “But rattling. Some creep was watching me walk up to my front door. Just a major invasion of privacy.”
A final indignity occurred as a North Port police officer clearing the scene left the Courtney home. The hacker, Sarah Courtney said, taunted by asking: “What’s up, (expletive)?”
North Port is working to track the hacker, said Josh Taylor. Ultimately, however, the jurisdiction where the crime originated would prosecute. And spoof calls, he said “are difficult to track.”