2 charged in nationwide 'swatting' spree where criminals allegedly took over Ring doorbells

Two men were indicted in a nationwide "swatting" spree in which the criminals called in fake police complaints, took over Ring doorbell cameras at the homes, livestreamed the responses, and in some cases even mocked law enforcement through the cameras, officials announced Monday.

Kya Christian Nelson of Wisconsin, and James Thomas Andrew McCarty of North Carolina were indicted by a Los Angeles grand jury Friday for a string of "swatting" calls — in which people call in fake emergencies — between Nov. 7, 2020 and Nov. 13, 2020, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

According to the indictment, Nelson and McCarty were able to access people's Ring doorbell accounts through compromised Yahoo email accounts. They allegedly cross-referenced the Yahoo accounts with Ring accounts that had the same email addresses and passwords. Once they had access to the cameras, officials said, the two called in false emergency reports in the areas near where those cameras were active, and streamed the audio and video of the police response on social media

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One such false report was called in to the West Covina Police Department, on Nov. 8, 2020. According to the indictment, Nelson and one other person posed as a minor, claiming that her parents were drinking and shooting guns inside the home. Officials said that Nelson used the camera to "verbally threaten and taunt West Covina Police officers who responded to the reported incident."

Similar swatting incidents were reported elsewhere in California, including Oxnard and Redding, as well as in Michigan, Montana, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Florida, according to the indictment. The spree even led the FBI to issue a public service announcement in 2020, urging doorbell camera users to bolster their login credentials. 

In a statement to FOX 11, Ring called swatting "a serious crime, and those responsible for it should be brought to justice." The company also said that the accounts of the victims in these swatting cases have since been secured. Ring also said the company supported the FBI in identifying the suspects, and has since required two-factor verification to secure accounts, among other safety measures.

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Nelson and McCarty each face one count each of conspiracy to intentionally access computers without authorization, while Nelson is also charged with two counts of accessing a computer without authorization and two counts of aggravated identity theft. Nelson is currently in jail in Kentucky in an unrelated case, while McCarty was arrested on federal charges in Arizona last week. If convicted, the two could face five years in jail.