NEWARK, N.J. – Authorities on Monday sought a man responsible for calling in a fake hostage report that targeted a well-known Internet security expert and encumbered about 30 police officers and SWAT team members for three hours over the weekend.
The caller claimed to be in a house in Wyckoff, a suburb about 15 miles west of New York City, belonging to Parry Aftab, a lawyer specializing in Internet privacy and security and a frequent media commentator.
The man said he was armed and had two hostages. Police and SWAT team members surrounded the home for about three hours Saturday and eventually shot tear gas canisters inside, but found only Aftab's cat inside.
Wyckoff police Chief Benjamin Fox said the call received at the police department was from a non-valid number, leading investigators to believe it was made using a computer that could generate the number. Fox said state and federal agencies including the FBI had offered assistance in tracing the call.
Aftab said Monday that some leads were being probed but declined to be specific, citing the ongoing investigation. She apologized to neighbors for the disruption and said she was working with investigators and Internet security experts to find the source of the call.
"There are a lot of people who hide behind a computer monitor and think it's going to get them attention, but this is going to get them the wrong kind of attention," she said. "This is not a harmless prank."
Fox said the perpetrator could be charged with filing a false police report and could face other charges that could lead to jail time.
"While we're all out at this scene, God forbid there's a second, real scene somewhere else," he said. "You're taking the law enforcement resources from something that could be more serious at another location."
Aftab disputed earlier reports that the call came from a stolen, or cloned, cellphone number, but said it's not difficult to make a computer-generated call that displays a bogus number.
"Any 8-year-old I know could have done this, and it does hide the identity of whoever's sending it if it's done the right way," she said.