Ozark, Mo. "swatting" scare leaves family shaken

Published: Feb. 1, 2020 at 9:39 PM CST
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A scam call turned scary in Ozark Friday. A family there said they're traumatized after a scammer falsely reported an assault and a shooting, and the police showed up at their house with guns drawn.

It's a kind of cyber harassment called "swatting," where a caller falsely reports criminal activity, leading police to bombard someone else's home. It's happened all across the country, and now, is happening in southwest Missouri.

"This can really ruin lives. It can really disrupt lives," said Richard Gaskill.

Gaskill got a call from a Maryland phone number Friday afternoon. The person on the line said they were from the Social Security Administration, and said Richard had warrants out for his arrest.

"When I called him out on being a scammer, he got belligerent with me, I got belligerent with him, and we had some real choice words back and forth. He told me he was going to send the police. I did not believe him," Gaskill said.

Just minutes later, the Ozark Police Department showed up at their front door. His step-daughter, 16-year-old Olivia Rotan was the only one home.

"I opened the door to guns at me and people yelling that there was somebody else in the house, or who was in the house, and that I needed to show them my hands," she said.

According to Lt. Derek Hill, with the Ozark Police Department, the call came in as an assault, in which someone had been shot.

"We threw as much of our resources to it at that to make it a safer response for us and the people involved. We quickly de-escalated the situation, determined it was not what we originally thought it was and what it was dispatched as," Hill said.

The family appreciated the way Ozark P-D responded, but said the scammer went too far. Sarah Gaskill said she feels robbed of her safety and sense of security.

"She could've been killed had anything gone sideways. It makes me want to move," she said.

Through this trauma, the family has learned a lesson they want everyone else to know, too.

"Plain and simple, if you don't recognize it, don't answer it," Richard Gaskill said.

If you do happen to answer a call you realize is a scam, Hill said, hang up immediately.

"It can happen to anybody. You're not immune to it," Hill said.

The family is not sure how the scammer got their address, but said the caller did have Richard's name. Lt. Hill said if someone has that information, it's not hard to find out where you live.

Hill said Ozark PD is going to continue to investigate Friday's situation.