Prank calls have always been a pastime for mischievous kids to ruffle some feathers without much fear of retaliation. In the early days of the phone (and thus, the days of prank calling), the pranksters often actually worked at the telephone company. In 1878, the Bell Telephone company hired teenage boys to be its operators. The company discovered the boys often played pranks on callers, disconnecting calls while they were still in progress, or even switching lines so that strangers would find themselves talking to one another. Incidentally, the boys’ subsequent firing is why the telephone industry specifically found women working as operators before it was common for women to find employment outside the home. While the prank call may be fading in popularity, some still pursue it as entertainment and when they do, the consequences can be surprising.
The Case of the Shattered Windows
When police began noticing a pattern of employees shattering the windows of Burger Kings from the inside, they were left scratching their heads. However, they quickly learned in all of the investigations that employees were being duped with prank calls from people posing as a representative of the fire department reporting a gas leak in the restaurant location, which would leave the employees in danger if they did not break some windows to relieve the pressure of the leak and offer clean air flow.
“Swatting” a Game Stop
Historically, prank calls have been fairly harmless gags, like asking someone if their refrigerator was running and laughing when you wasted their time. Now, however, we live in a time when “swatting” is a term for a prank call with the intent of driving the SWAT team to a certain location to descend on unwitting prey. It actually became more well-known for being done on gamers (often talking about going in to “kill” someone soon), but can also work in absolutely benign situations, like shoppers milling around a store, as was the case in New Jersey, when a number of swatting hoaxes cropped up, most notably at a Game Stop where nothing was happening at all.
One Quick Call, $115k in Hotel Damage
A Nebraska Holiday Inn endured the unfortunate experience of cleaning up $115,000 in damages caused when a prank caller pretending to be a hotel employee convinced a guest to activate a sprinkler system. The caller apparently pretended to be a hotel employee and reported that a hotel maid had broken a gas line. He instructed the guest to place wet towels under his door so no fumes could enter his room. The caller also told the guest to unplug all electrical devices, open his windows and break the glass vial in the room’s sprinkler—a move supposedly intended to avoid the possible electrical charge the device could hold from causing an explosion in the room. All told, the prank caused 5000 gallons of water to flood the hotel, resulting in repairs lasting for weeks.
Calling Pitcher to Bullpen… from the Couch
It unfolds in real time: a bunch of buddies hanging out on the couch watching a Texas A&M baseball game decide to see whether they can reach someone in the dugout. They have the number for the dugout phone, so they call and ask the coach to warm up “Minter”, an Aggies pitcher currently in the dugout. The group erupts in triumphant cheers when sure enough, they see Minter being trotted out to the bullpen to warm up.
Pranking the News Outlets. All of Them.
Tom Cipriano won’t likely be known for a single prank call as much as he’ll be regarded for his body of work. A passionate and prolific prank caller, Cipriano has lost count of how many times he’s gotten on-air with news programs on Fox News, CNN, ESPN, ABC, MSNBC and dozens of others. He estimates his number of calls to be north of 10,000. Cipriano’s formula is pretty simple: he just calls in to stations airing “breaking news” and pretends to be an eyewitness. He’s presented himself to be an athlete, a military vet, a journalist, and even a female kidnap victim. He’s still surprised that no one seems to catch on, and he hardly has trouble getting on air at such well-known networks.