Practical jokers have delighted for years at tormenting celebrities at home by calling in bogus reports of violence and provoking huge police responses.

Now they have found a way to turn their pranks into an instant public spectacle by setting their sights on a new set of victims: video gamers who play live on the Internet, often in front of huge online audiences.

Last month, several hundred people were watching Joshua Peters as he played the game RuneScape from his parents’ home in St. Cloud, Minn. A video of Mr. Peters shows him suddenly leaving his computer when police officers appear at the house and order him and his family at gunpoint to lie face down on the ground.

Los Angeles police officers responding to a hoax call last year at a house owned by Ashton Kutcher.Hollywood ‘Swatting’ Hoax Strains Both Police and StarsAPRIL 10, 2013
Someone had called 911 claiming Mr. Peters had just shot his roommate. Shortly after defusing the situation, Mr. Peters returned to his live stream and tearfully rebuked the culprit, whom he assumed was among his audience. Mr. Peters, 27, said 20 to 30 people on the Internet immediately claimed responsibility for the hoax, but he has no idea why they picked on him.

“I don’t really have any beefs with anyone out there online,” said Mr. Peters, a United States Air Force veteran.

But Mr. Peters did have a camera trained on him. He is one of thousands of gamers who use hugely popular live online video services to entertain others and make money. And those cameras have made them irresistible targets for swatting, as the prank is called, allowing mischief makers to indulge their voyeurism by watching the tense and confusing moments of a police raid.

That has created an unexpected occupational hazard for gamers. Build a following by streaming — and make yourself a potential target.

“With the live-streaming platforms, it amplifies the entire situation,” said James Clayton Eubanks, 22, who says he has been swatted about a half-dozen times while he streamed his Call of Duty sessions. “Not only do they get to do this and cause this misery, they get to watch it unfold in front of thousands of people.”

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