Making a Hoax Threat Is a Federal Crime

The FBI and law enforcement around the country have investigated a number of hoax threats of targeted violence against schools and other public places. These threats—often issued via text message or posted on social media—are taken very seriously. Hoax threats are not a joke, and they can have devastating consequences—both for the public and for the perpetrators.

Issuing a threat—even over social media, via text message, or through e-mail—is a federal crime (threatening interstate communications).  Those who post or send these threats can receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison, or they can face state or local charges. With a thoughtless remark on social media, young people risk starting out their adult lives in prison and forever being labeled a felon. 

In addition to consequences for individuals who issue threats, there is also a significant societal cost. Law enforcement agencies have limited resources, and responding to hoax threats diverts officers and costs taxpayers. The threats can also cause severe emotional distress to students, school personnel, and parents.

Here are a few examples of serious threats:
  • Two young men in Kentucky created a social media account in someone else’s name and used it to make threats against a public school, which police investigated and determined to be a hoax. An 18-year-old was sentenced to 21 months in prison and a 19-year-old was sentenced to 27 months.
  • A young man in Texas used social media and a phone to issue threats against schools in Minnesota. He also called in fake hostage situations, known as “swatting.” He was arrested, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison. He was 19 at the time of sentencing.
  • A 21-year-old South Carolina man was sentenced to one year in federal prison after he sent text messages claiming there was a bomb in the parking lot of a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the state.
  • An 18-year-old North Carolina man was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay restitution after he broadcast himself on the Internet calling in bomb threats to various public places, including schools, colleges, and FBI offices.
Chicago (UIC) student posted an online threat to commit a mass shooting

A former University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) student who posted an online threat to commit a mass shooting at the University of Chicago is now the face of a FBI campaign to encourage the public to “think before you post.”

In this announcement, you will hear a chilling firsthand account from a Chicago college student about what happened to him after he posted a very serious threatening message of mass violence in November 2015. The threat, which was only posted briefly before being deleted, was reported to law enforcement after being seen by another person in New York who happened to be looking at the same social media site.

The student says he deeply regrets not immediately recognizing the traumatic impact of his post and the significant diversion of law enforcement and community resources to rapidly respond to this threat. The student discusses his realization of the gravity of his post when the FBI arrested him.

What this college student posted and took down in less than a minute resulted in a lifetime of consequences.