Two men have been indicated in connection with a scheme to hack into Ring doorbell cameras and make fake emergency calls to police to livestream their responses on social media, federal prosecutors said.
Kya Christian Nelson, 21, of Racine, Wisconsin, and James Thomas Andrew McCarty, 20, of Charlotte, North Carolina, were indicated on Dec. 19 on multiple federal counts in connection with the scheme, known as “swatting,” according to a news release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Over the course of a week in 2020, the men got usernames and passwords for Yahoo accounts and used them to gain access to Ring cameras at homes across the country, according to the release. They then placed a variety of bogus emergency calls to the police and streamed the live recordings on social media as officers responding to the residences, prosecutors said.
The FBI issued a public service announcement in December 2020 warning homeowners with smart devices, such as Ring cameras, that people were using stolen email passwords to access the devices and “carry out swatting attacks.”
“Swatting” is a hoax call to police and other emergency services placed to get first responders to go to specific locations.
Attorneys for the men were not listed. Ring told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that it takes “the security of our customers extremely seriously” and has increased protection for its users.
On Nov. 8, 2020, Nelson and an unindicted co-conspirator who is a juvenile hacked into a Ring camera in West Covina, California, about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, according to an indictment. One of them then called the police department pretending to be a child and reported that their parents were drinking and shooting guns inside the house, the indictment says. Nelson then used the Ring camera to “verbally threaten and taunt” the police officers who responded to the house, according to the indictment.
In another instance on Nov. 13, 2020, McCarty, Nelson and the unindicted co-conspirator accessed a Ring camera in North Port, Florida, about 85 miles south of Tampa, the indictment says . McCarty called the police department pretending to be a man who had just killed his wife, according to the indictment. He is also accused of saying he was holding a hostage at the residence and had rigged the house with explosives.
He later posted a message on social media saying he and his co-conspirators hacked “ring doorbells and we swat them after. … It’s (explosive) funny,” the indictment says .
Other similar incidents occurred in Flat Rock, Michigan; Redding, Calif.; Billings, Montana; Decatur, Georgia; Chesapeake, Virginia; Rosenberg, Texas; Oxnard, Calif.; Darien, Illinois; Huntsville, Alabama; and Katy, Texas, according to the release.
Nelson, who is also known as “ChumLul,” and McCarty, who is also known as “Aspertaine,” were each charged with one count of “conspiracy to intentionally access computers without authorization,” according to the release. Nelson also faces two counts of “intentionally accessing without authorization a computer and two counts of aggravated identity theft,” the release says.