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Can an online prank send me to jail?

When you get online, it can be easy to forget that your interactions with others involve real people. This is especially true when the atmosphere is contentious or emotionally charged, such as a political discussion or a computer game involving multiple players. While it is unlikely that you and other Ohio residents might take an online dispute to the next level, the chance exists that your actions online might be construed as criminal activity.

One recent example you may have heard about was an incident in which a man from Los Angeles, California, allegedly instigated an online prank called “swatting,” which culminated in an innocent man’s death. ABC News reported that after an argument over an online game, a player asked the California man to “swat” another player from Wichita, Kansas. The man, who was known in the gaming community for playing such pranks on others, called authorities and made a report that the Kansas man was holding family members hostage in a violent situation. The man was fatally shot when officers went to his home and mistakenly thought he was reaching for a weapon.

As you can surmise, the swatting prank involves making a false police report to draw authorities to an unsuspecting person’s location. In this particular case, the Los Angeles man is being held without bail and faces felony charges.

Swatting may seem like it would happen rarely, but it is estimated that around 400 false alarm pranks of this nature are made across the country each year. You might think that a joke you play online is harmless, but it is important to consider the possible consequences before you participate.

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