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Gardisten
Thursday, August 6th, 2009, 08:05 AM
AUGUST 4--At 4:15 AM on a recent Tuesday, on a quiet, darkened street in Windsor, Ontario, a man was wrapping up another long day tormenting and terrorizing strangers on the telephone. Working from a sparsely furnished two-bedroom apartment in a ramshackle building a block from the Detroit River, the man, nicknamed "Dex", heads a network of so-called pranksters who have spent more than a year engaged in an orgy of criminal activity--vandalism, threats, harassment, impersonation, hacking, and other assorted felonies and misdemeanors--targeting U.S. businesses and residents.

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. For example, a bizarre July 20 prank ended with a hotel worker actually sipping from a urine sample provided by a guest at a Homewood Suites in Kentucky. Additionally, at least twice this year, fast food workers--fearing that they would suffer burns after being doused by chemicals from a fire suppression system--stripped off their clothes on the sidewalk outside their respective restaurants.

"Dex", who took his nickname from the lead character in "Dexter," the Showtime series about a serial killer who murders serial killers, is bitingly contemptuous of law enforcement and its ability to stop Pranknet or locate its members. When a victim warns him that they are contacting police, he laughs derisively and offers to provide cops with a crayon to trace his number. He and his followers place their prank calls via Skype, confident that the Internet phone service sufficiently cloaks their identities and whereabouts.
The Smoking Gun (http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0803091pranknet1.html)