North Port family warning others after being targeted in swatting incident

Sarasota County

NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) – A family in North Port says they were targeted in a swatting incident with a high-tech twist.

Last Friday afternoon, Sarah Courtney got a call from a detective from the North Port Police Department.

“He told me to go outside because the SWAT team was surrounding my home and they needed to check and make sure I was OK. I was kind of thinking it was a prank at this point, but then he asked me if I had a blue cooler on my porch and at that point, my heart literally just dropped into my stomach because we did have a cooler sitting on the porch and he started describing my neighbors cars so then I kind of started panicking,” said Courtney.

Soon after she walked outside, she saw police pulling up to her house.

“They told me that someone had called claiming to be my husband and saying that he had just caught me cheating and murdered me. Obviously none of that was true. My husband was working in Lake Okeechobee and they were also on the phone with him and he was obviously freaking out as much as I was freaking out because we had no idea what was happening,” said Courtney.

As police were clearing the family’s home, someone started blurting out vulgar and inappropriate comments from the family’s Ring doorbell camera. Courtney thought the camera had been hacked, but later learned her email was hacked, which helped the hacker gain access to her Ring account and watch the entire swatting incident unfold in real time.

Courtney tells 8 On Your Side she has no idea who could have been responsible for the swatting incident and the online hack.

“I think it was just a random act by someone and it was just incredibly cruel. It is a really terrible thing to do a person or to a family. They have kind of taken a little bit of our peace that we had that everyone should be able to have in their home, they take that from you,” said the mother of two.

North Port Police are actively investigating the incident.

“Somebody called in a false report of a potential homicide with explosives at the home. It didn’t necessarily add up right away, but we had to take every precaution just in case. Unfortunately because of the proximity to a nearby school caused it to be locked down for a short period of time, but within 20 or 30 minutes, we were able to determine that it wasn’t legit. We were able to make contact with the homeowner who certainly wasn’t deceased and asked her to come out and went through the process of confirming that it was in fact an elaborate prank,” said North Port Police Dept. Public Information Officer Josh Taylor.

8 On Your Side contacted officials with Ring for comment. Officials confirm Ring systems were not compromised and they are actively working with local and federal law enforcement to investigate and hold criminals in these cases accountable.

“Based on our ongoing investigation, a small number of Ring accounts appear to have been accessed by bad actors using compromised email accounts — Ring systems were not compromised. We promptly notified these customers and reset their Ring passwords so they could secure both their Ring and personal email accounts. Swatting is a serious crime and we’re working with law enforcement to hold the bad actors accountable and protect customers.”

They provided the following security tips to help protect your account.

8 On Your Side also spoke with an official with Cyber Florida at USF about steps folks can take to protect their online accounts.

“Just be thoughtful about what you’ve got connected to your home network because this not only happens with Ring but it happens with smart TVs, smart fridges, smart thermostats, all of these things are hackable and if any of these things such as a smart TV has a camera or a microphone, then cyber criminals can watch you and listen to you from your smart TV,” said Cyber Florida spokeswoman Kate Whitaker. “So you want to make sure that you always are following the directions that come with a device for basic security. You should always be allowed to set a new password, don’t use the default password that came with it. A lot of times companies reuse those. You always want to set your own password and you want to make sure your home Wi-Fi network is password-protected with a good strong password. Those basic steps will help prevent a lot of these kinds of incidents,” said Whitaker.

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