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Prank call leads police to surround home in Bethlehem, evacuate neighbors

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 16 2013 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 18 2013 04:57:09 AM CST

It's prank calling gone high-tech.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

It's prank calling gone high-tech. Imagine police officers bursting into your home all because someone called in a crime that never happened. 

It's a potentially deadly prank known as "swatting," and this week it happened in the Lehigh Valley.

It was just one phone call. A person reported hearing two gunshots inside a house in Bethlehem. 

"To us a shooting incident isn't a joke. It isn't a hoax; it's serious business," said Det. Lt. Mark DiLuzio, Bethlehem Police Dept.

Officers responded in force. Bethlehem's emergency response team, EMS, patrol officers and detectives surrounded the home in the 600 block of Hayes Street. The entire block was on lock down.

"Police responded and evacuated the residents out of the house," DiLuzio said.

This time, the reported shooting turned out to be a hoax. 

"There was not a shooting at the house," said DiLuzio. "The residents had no idea what was going on."

Prank calls like this made to fire and police departments have been a growing problem across the country. It's known as "swatting." Callers use technology to mask their phone numbers and then call 911 to report crimes that send police, and sometimes SWAT teams, racing to the scene.

This isn't the first time it's happened in Bethlehem

"It's a game people play," explained DiLuzio.  "They call in these fake calls to 911 centers throughout the country. Many times the caller is nearby, and he wants to film the response."

Swatting is not a joke, police said.  It ties up valuable personnel, and can cost taxpayers around $10,000 per call.

"You're making up an emergency, forcing emergency responders to respond, endangering their lives. You're also endangering the lives of the people in the home," said DiLuzio.

Swatting is a serious crime, and folks who do it will face local and maybe even state or federal charges.