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The Outing of Pranknet 543

An anonymous reader writes "The Smoking Gun recently published a story on their investigation and outing of Pranknet, an online cabal that aims to take pranks to the next level. Their legacy includes thousands of dollars of damage, and many harassed souls. Many of the pranks have clear criminal implications. Reading their report may send chills down your collective spines." From the linked article: "Coalescing in an online chat room, members of the group, known as Pranknet, use the telephone to carry out cruel and outrageous hoaxes, which they broadcast live around-the-clock on the Internet. Masquerading as hotel employees, emergency service workers, and representatives of fire alarm companies, 'Dex' and his cohorts have successfully prodded unwitting victims to destroy hotel rooms and lobbies, set off sprinkler systems, activate fire alarms, and damage assorted fast food restaurants. But while Pranknet's hoaxes have caused millions of dollars in damages, it is the group's efforts to degrade and frighten targets that makes it even more odious ..."
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The Outing of Pranknet

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:08PM (#29005231)

    here we call them FELONIES!

    • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:59PM (#29005585) Homepage Journal

      here we call them FELONIES!


      And also, I'm 100% positive that I will turn on the news tomorrow and hear the media refer to this DouchNet as a group of hackers.

      • by Virak ( 897071 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:07PM (#29005633) Homepage

        To be fair, social engineering is more of 'hacking' than a lot of what gets passed off as such these days, even if it's just used to be gigantic assholes.

        • by Anonymous Cowar ( 1608865 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:03PM (#29006505)
          social engineering: because there is no patch for human stupidity.
          • by stuckinphp ( 1598797 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:13PM (#29006977)
            Hitler had a neat script we could probably port over with perl. I don't think I want that on my conscience though.
            • by dintech ( 998802 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:03AM (#29008553)

              Hitler had a neat script we could probably port over with perl. I don't think I want that on my conscience though.

              I don't think I'd want that on my concience either. If you had a chance to go back in time and kill the creator of Perl, you'd probably do it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 ( 562437 )

      Isn't the newspeak word for this "terrorism"?
      Hmm... I guess even the oldspeak word is "terrorism", because they are creating the terror that gave that word its name, don't they?
      (Yes, our government creates terror too.)

  • successfully prodded unwitting victims to destroy hotel rooms and lobbies, set off sprinkler systems, activate fire alarms, and damage assorted fast food restaurants[...]Pranknet's hoaxes have caused millions of dollars in damages,

    Movies cost hundreds of millions to create, market, distribute, and be consumed for the same reason: Entertainment. The difference is, movies are legal and often fictional. But does it matter to those watching? No. The deeper question here is -- why do people watch it? Why the popularity? The answer says a lot more about us, the audience, than it does about the criminals.

    • by pen ( 7191 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:15PM (#29005283)
      What are you talking about? There is a lot more of a difference between these pranks and movies; For example, the actors' and crews' voluntary participation, and not causing uncompensated damage to someone's property and psyche. I'm sure there are some examples, but they're generally frowned upon. Causing millions of dollars in damages to someone's property and not compensating them for it is not the same as paying a crew millions of dollars to film a movie. Give me a break!
  • idle hands (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:21PM (#29005341) Homepage Journal

    Reading TFA it shows that this kid doesn't go to school and doesn't have a job, he just spends his days and nights mooching off his mom and finding ways to entertain himself.

    One of those cases I'd file under "parents enabling the problem". Kick him out on the street where he belongs, force him to get a job and spend some of his time doing something constructive, rather than 100% of his time spent on destructive self-entertainment. There are some cases where the parents bear a significant chunk of the responsibility for their kids' behavior, and this is definitely one of them.

    • Re:idle hands (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:29PM (#29005405) Homepage
      It's not just his parents. It's all of society that enables these kinds of folk. Back in the day we'd just leave them for the wolves.
    • Re:idle hands (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:41PM (#29005475)
      I caught that too. He thinks he is so much superior than those he is duping, but he is the one living with his mom and no friends.
    • Re:idle hands (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:49PM (#29005517) Homepage Journal
      Most mooches living in their parents basement manage to satisfy themselves with porn and World of Warcraft. While sad, they somehow manage to avoid actively reaching out to destroy things. This man is a psychopath, and it will take more than a bit of tough love to fix him, assuming he can be fixed.
      • Re:idle hands (Score:5, Informative)

        by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:07PM (#29005635)
        Technically speaking, he's most likely a sociopath, a psychopath isn't likely to be still living with his parents. Psychopaths are driven to the point of ignoring the needs and wants of other people to get what they want. Sociopaths are largely similar, but far less organized and far more likely to be capable of interacting with others, providing that they have similar interests. But both are worth considering as dangerous and keeping an eye on.
        • Re:idle hands (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:27PM (#29005793)

          Technically speaking, nobody seems to be able to agree on what if any difference there is between "psychopath" and "sociopath". I've heard a million and one different 'correct' distinctions between the two. The most common distinction seems to be that "psychopath" applies to people for which the condition is biological in origin, and "sociopath" for ones for which it is sociological in origin. Even that doesn't seem to be common enough to say it's the 'correct' distinction. And I've certainly never heard the sort of distinction you're claiming.

          To make the terminology even more fun and exciting, there's also antisocial personality disorder [] from the DSM and dissocial personality disorder [] from the ICD, which largely overlap with each other and psychopathy/sociopathy.

          (IANAP, but I play one on the Internet)

        • Re:idle hands (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:29PM (#29005809)

          Actually sociopath and psychopath are exactly the same. The only difference is, traditionally, people who think you are born a sociopath use the term psychopath and people who think you are made into a psychopath use the term sociopath. The symptoms and behaviors are identical with the only difference being the assumed cause.

          I would also like to note that the captcha for this post was "pervert". How funny.

    • Re:idle hands (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted@slashdot ... minus physicist> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:52PM (#29007577)

      Great. Your cause is correct. But your "solution"...
      You are doing what everyone says: EXACTLY THE WRONGEST THING POSSIBLE!

      First you totally fail (sorry), by confusing force with motivation. A common mistake of >95% of the population. It's one of those things that work shortly, and then make everything even worse. Like drugs. And just like drugs, people tend to apply more, when it stops working. So it's not a question, *if* this ends in a catastrophe, but *when*.

      Then you kick him on the street. Which will help exactly no-one. I was on the street. So I can tell you that all it brings is depression, and the will to destroy yourself. Usually it ends in some relative or friend helping you, a lucky situation, life-long bum life, or death from drug-related problems.

      And forcing people into jobs they do not want, is also a root of what is wrong with our society. A job you do not want is one that is not payed well enough to be worth the hassle. Which in other words means, that some ass is profiting off your back. So the trick is to find people who want to give you enough money for what you like to do. (If what you like to do is not worth enough money to them, you can become more efficient, so that you get more per time unit. Or you have to find something else that you like.)
      But all in all, it *must* be something that you like. After all you are giving one third of your life (or half of your life awake) away for it.

      Also, what you see as "constructive" is not a global absolute. It is completely relative. The only global meaning is, that it yields something positive for him. (Which his current "job" does, apparently. Problem: Usually nobody wants to give him money for it. But I know situations, where people would pay for that kind of service.)

      Ok, now for the cause and how to do it right:
      First of all, you need someone that he respects. This is essential, to be able to tell him anything that he will actually consider.
      Then that someone needs to create a positive motivating gradient. (Something that naturally gives the feeling of wanting to go there by yourself.)
      This starts by offering life-improving things. Things that are way better *in his eyes* than what he does right now.
      Then you can add a short burst of negativity to get it going. But *only ONE time*. A bit like a zero point experience to start over.
      Who do you think will not go towards that way better "portal of salvation", when in that situation? Nobody! :)

      Or as a simple conclusion: You have to make people want to do something in a positive way, instead of you wanting them to do it (in a negative way).
      Then you will get lasting results, and that person will become very productive, while everybody is happy.

      P.S.: Also, I'd recommend checking yourself for repressed anger, that usually is the source of reactions like yours. Without it, you can also improve your life and have more fun, while not being annoyed so much by things like this. :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CmdrGravy ( 645153 )

        Offer him a "positive motivation gradient" ?

        The guy's a dweeb, a dork, a gomp, a trofflehamet, a waster, a spaz and you suggest I go out of my way to fashion him a "positive motivation gradient". I don't think so buddy the only thing I'll be fashioning for him is a chuggle rod to beat his head with.

        He is a sad, vicious, manipulative, delusional, lazy, big head and before anyone else goes out of their way to help him he needs to make some attempt to see himself as he is and do something to fix it. If throwin

  • by Constantin ( 765902 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:30PM (#29005409) see how these fine folk reacted once they were outed by TSG. Props to the folk who got the job done.

    Tariq Malik calling the cops on reporters standing in a public way outside your flat after having posted numerous episodes of taking advantage of gullible people on youtube has to be the epitome of chutzpah. If the allegations against him and his cohorts are true (and the evidence they collected against themselves seems to back those allegations up), I hope they get to pay restitution to all the folk they tricked and spend a considerable time making up their 'pranks' to society.

    Documenting your own crimes and posting them to the internet in the hope of glory seems a bit backwards to me, but hey, to each his/her own.

  • Birds of a feather (Score:5, Informative)

    by lacoronus ( 1418813 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:13PM (#29005683)

    Seems like one of the Pranknet guys (Markle) was jailed for two years for raping a five-year-old []. He "warned the girl that he would kill her parents if she did not comply with him".

    • by twostix ( 1277166 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:16PM (#29006185)

      Birds of a feather indeed.

      From the same link:

      "Markle pulled the Arby's prank in tandem with Shawn Powell, a 24-year-old felon who also happens to be a convicted sex offender (Powell's victim was an eight-year-old female relative)."

      It looks more like a couple of child rapists fronting as a "prank" group than anything else, I bet there's far more to this story and I bet it's going to get very ugly once full investigations take place.

      • by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:55AM (#29008941)

        Actually, the bit with the one who took pictures of his nude relative somewhat pissed me off. Not because he might be a paedophile, but because of how it's written:

        Shawn Powell, known as "Slipknotpsycho," is a 24-year-old Texan on that state's sex offender registry. In May 2002, he was sentenced to 13 months in custody following his conviction on a felony charge of indecency with a minor (he admitted taking naked photos of an eight-year-old female relative).

        It's written in such a way that we're supposed to think "and after that he raped her and jerked off to the pictures afterwards", but nothing indicates that this is the case. For all we know he may have been taking pictures of the kids playing with the water hose in the yard at a summer family reunion, and some neighbour saw him take pictures and got offended.

        Just like "$person's a registered sex offender" and no mention that it's because they were caught pissing on a police car (not the case here). Go look through your family photo album and see how many pictures you'll find of nude children. Obviously your family is made entirely from paedophiles.

        It really pissed me off in this article, because it was a great and well thought out article up to that point, and after hitting that bit I couldn't help but thinking "great, another scaremongering article. They even follow up the paedophile angle with an overblown drug user angle:

        The unemployed Powell, whose rap sheet also includes a 2003 pot possession conviction

        Oh, the horror. Pot possesion?!? He's clearly the right hand man of a Columbian drug baron!

        Doing pot places him in a group of people that include such notorious delinquents as Michael Phelps [], Barack Obama [], Peter Fonda [] and a shitload of other degenerates who should've been a stain on the bedsheets instead ...

        I haven't bothered to look at Shawn Powell's indecency trial. Considering how the US has prosecutors who see fit to permanently ruin the lives of 14-year-old kids [] who take nude pictures of themselves, I can't really get my panties in a twist over the stuff The Smoking Gun lists for Powell.

        For all I know Powell may be the lowest of low, but nothing that The Smoking Gun lists convinces me that he is. I love this tidbit as well:

        Nothing speaks more to the execrable nature of Malik's rank and file than the fact that the sex offender who took naked photos of a little girl is not the most loathsome guy in the chat room.

        Now, what did this guy do that so much, much worse than being a trainee kiddie fiddler? He tricked someone into drinking urine. Now, either The Smoking Gun considers drinking a sterile although disgusting liquid much much much more despicable than child molestation, or they themselves don't really believe that Powell's pictures were more than someone completely overreacting.

        They did some great work on that article, and I wouldn't mind seeing all of those guys get their just deserts, but why the perceived need to fluff up the piece like that?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      James Tyler Markle, 18, pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child and was sentenced in 2005 to a minimum two years in custody.

      2 years for a rape of a five-year-old? I'm not one of the "think of the children" guys normally, but this sort of thing should land you behind the bars for the rest of your life, with parole eligibility in maybe 10 years or so, minor or not. Besides, at 17, "minor" is a misnomer in the circumstances.

      I think that a sentence like that for what he did is a really good way to tell the guy, "go ahead, do whatever the hell you want, at worst you'll get a slap on the wrist".

  • by Beetle B. ( 516615 ) <[moc.liame] [ta] [b_elteeb]> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:24PM (#29006243)

    There are a lot of comments here suggesting that the victims should take most of the blame.

    As food for thought, I'd recommend those commenters watch this fascinating TED talk [].

    He gives a number of examples where we feel that we're in control of our decisions, but the designer of the systems/situations have measurably a greater influence in what you'll do than you yourself may. His point at the end is (paraphrased):

    When it comes to the physical world, we're acutely aware of our limitations, and we build systems to overcome them (e.g. stairs to climb vertically, wheels for easy transport, etc). When it comes to the mental world, we have this unreasonable view of ourselves as supermen. We think we are always in control, and that we are always responsible. We need to understand our mental limitations so that we can design systems (e.g. public/company policy, transportation systems, etc) to overcome them (and make the world a better place).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:52PM (#29007581)
    This reminds me of the following self-videotaped paintball drive-by attack "pranks" for which the perpetrators were rightfully given jail sentences and in some cases mandatory psychiatric treatment:

    3 Teens (Anthony Skoblar, Javier Perez and Malcolm Boyd) Face Prison in Paintball Attacks committed in 1996 [](some of you might remember watching this on TV as it got a lot of coverage)

    The Anchorage paintball attacks committed in 2001 by Charles Deane Wiseman and two juveniles whose names were not released []
  • by timotten ( 5411 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @12:01AM (#29007639) Homepage

    There's a very strong norm against publishing phone numbers, addresses, etc in journalism (esp. criminal and political journalism). I readily agree with this norm -- it seems that publishing such information can invite vigilantism and generate life-long problems for the accused without the benefit of a fair trial. I would generally expect journalists to abide this norm in news reports on robbery, drug trafficking, arson, embezzlement, etc.

    Never-the-less, I felt a twinge of satisfaction while reading phone numbers and street addresses in TSG's article. I wouldn't mind if these serial harassers received a series of harassing phone calls.

    Then again, TSG accuses Pranknet of systematically violating the informal norms that their victims rely on; is it proper for TSG to turn around and break an informal norm of journalism?

    I'd like to better understand the ethical question here. Perhaps TSG's approach is the only way to deal with Pranknet? Perhaps it's poetic justice? Has TSG made a special ethical judgement regarding Pranknet? On what basis? Does TSG habitually violate journalistic ethics? Do the participants in Pranknet deserve worse treatment than anyone else accused of crime? How would our opinion change if TSG had presented the story differently?

  • by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:49PM (#29013537)

    Since I've not seen anyone else point it out yet, I just thought I'd point out that the 'pranksters' are simply exercising Foot-in-the-door technique []. They probably aren't, necessarily always, stupid people that get duped by these situations. The actions they are being instructed to conduct are all reasonable - in relation to the one they just finished completing. The 'big picture' isn't as readily available as you might thing.

    I hesitate to point this out, because it could empower other 'pranksters', but the formula is basically:

    A) Get them to do something innocuous

    B) Get them to do something logical

    C) Get them to do something slightly/somewhat less logical

    D) Continue escalating requests until something breaks

    The 'humor' is often found at the ridiculousness of 'D)'.

    Look at the hotel scenarios:

    A) Get them out of bed thinking there is an emergency

    B) Get them to line the underside of the doors, etc

    C) Get them to 'open' a window, by force if necessary

    D) Get them to break the TV (since force was already used on the window)

    No one calls them up and goes straight to 'D)', and THAT alone is why it works.

    The best defense against this would be to keep 'A)' in mind at all times. The leap from 'A)' to the end should also make sense without the intermediary steps...

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