'Pranknet' Terrified People for Kicks

"It's pretty horrifying to listen to," said William Bastone, editor of The Smoking Gun. "When he gets someone to put a wet towel under the door, you know where it's going -- and you can't stop it."

Online Pranksters Get People to Cause Thousands in Damage

Bastone and two fellow staffers, Andrew Goldberg and Joseph Jesselli, say they spent seven weeks tracking down the organizers of Pranknet. They found Malik was apparently a shut-in in his mother's apartment in a run-down part of Windsor, trying to create mayhem and hoping to draw an audience.

Police say they have not been sure how to react to the perplexing calls they've received.

"When the patrol guys went out there, it was a very unusual situation," said Sgt. Thomas Poulin of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office in Santee, Calif.

Poulin said that until reporters called him, he "hadn't a clue" that the gas-leak prank in Santee was not an isolated case. "In 25 years of police work, I've never seen anything like this," he said.

The FBI in Washington, contacted by ABCNews.com, said its office in Knoxville, Tenn., had been working on the case, but the agency was not sure what federal laws had been violated.

Canadian police say much the same. Sgt. Brett Corey of the Windsor, Ontario, police confirmed that "we do have some investigators looking into this," but said there have been no complaints filed in Windsor and is not sure what the possible charges would be. "Mischief" is a crime in Canada, but they are not sure "Dex" has caused any mischief in Canada.

Bastone said that "Dex," apparently spooked by the unwanted attention, has left the online chat rooms he used, pulled down the audio he posted on YouTube of phone calls in which people fell for Pranknet's ruses, and deleted the tweets he posted on Twitter to boast of his successes.

But so far he appears to have gotten away with his pranks. In the Santee case, the police there say, he lucked out. His victim turned out to have a police record -- and, to avoid any more legal tangles, offered to pay for the damage he had been fooled into causing.

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