The Smoking Gun – In a move straight out of the Pranknet playbook, an ESPN reporter early this morning was convinced by an unknown caller to her hotel to break out her room’s windows because the building was purportedly on fire. According to a Gainesville Police Department report, ESPNU reporter Elizabeth Moreau was in her room at a Hilton Garden Inn when a male caller advised “that the hotel was on fire.” The man first directed Moreau, 27, to “lay towels down at the bottom of her front door to prevent smoke from entering her room.” The caller then directed Moreau to use the toilet lid cover to break out the window. “She then went to the window and used it to break out the window. The window was broken and the toilet lid broke upon falling to the ground outside,” police reported… The ruse is a classic tactic employed by individuals affiliated with Pranknet, the online group of hooligans exposed last year by TSG. Pranknet members frequently called hotels and asked for random room numbers. When a guest picked up–usually in the early morning hours–they would try to convince them that the hotel was on fire or had suffered a dangerous rupture in a gas line. The goal was to have the panicked guest break windows or trigger the sprinkler system. And sometimes both. As TSG previously reported, Pranknet’s founder, Tariq Malik, last year distributed to certain followers lengthy target lists containing the locations and phone numbers of hundreds of Hilton Garden Inns in the U.S.. The chain was a favorite of Malik & Co. because callers could be patched through to a room without having to know the name of its occupant.
I have to confess, this is the first I’ve heard of Pranknet. And I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around what they’re doing. I guess they’re a more sophisticated version of The Pranksters from “30 Rock,” is that about right? But The Pranksters do clever stuff like leave out a box of donuts with a mouse in it. Their shenanigans are cheeky and fun; Pranknet’s shenanigans are cruel and tragic. I mean, is this all they do? Call up random strangers and fool them into smashing hotel windows with toilet seats? It all seems like a lot of work for not much of a payoff to me. You’ve got a reasonably cute ESPN U reporter in her hotel room on the line. You can’t… I don’t know… trick her into renting in-room porn or standing in front of the window naked? Something… anything worth the time and effort? I’m not the greatest practical joker in the world, but it seems to me like Tariq Malik is running a real phony-pizza-delivery operation here.
PS. Erin Andrews is probably pissed that this happened to another ESPN cupcake and not her.