The threats are often posted on social media or via text messages, the FBI wrote in an online news release.
So federal authorities want to remind the public that hoax threats are not a joke and they can have devastating consequences — for both 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), according to the FBI.
Those who post or send those threats can receive up to five years in prison — 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, according to the FBI.
“The Bureau and its law enforcement partners take each threat seriously. We investigate and fully analyze each threat to determine its credibility,” said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich. “Hoax threats disrupt school, waste limited law enforcement resources, and put first responders in unnecessary danger. We also don’t want to see a young person start out adulthood with a felony record over an impulsive social media post. It’s not a joke; always think before you post.”
In addition to consequences for people 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.
What to do
The FBI has a few tips for would-be hoax posters as well as the public to follow if they happen to see a threat posted.
First off, the FBI warns to never post or send any hoax threats.
Additionally, the FBI encourages people to alert local law enforcement immediately if they are a target of an online threat or if they see a threat of violence posted on social media.
Members of the public can submit tips to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov.
After reporting the threats to authorities, the next step the FBI wants the public to take is to not share or forward the threat until law enforcement has a chance to investigate.
That can spread misinformation and cause panic.
Lastly, the FBI wants those who may be parents or family members of a young people to speak with their children or relatives about proper outlets for stress or other emotions and explain the importance of responsible social media use and the consequences of posting hoax threats.
To find more information and resources on preventing threats and hoax threats, click here.
To submit a tip, click here.