An Aberdeen Hotel sustained significant water damage after an internet-based prank coerced a guest to bash the head off of a sprinkler system with a toilet tank lid, authorities said.
The Holiday Inn Express on Beards Hill Road in Aberdeen sustained an estimated $100,000 in water damage as a result of the hoax, which occurred just before 1:30 a.m. Friday, according to the state fire marshal’s office.
A guest at the hotel was randomly contacted by the website www.pranku.net, also known as Pranknet, and was told a gas leak had occurred in the hotel.
“I guess with technology and electronics out there, they do some type of search out there and picked this particular hotel, this particular room. As far as we can tell, this lady had no knowledge of the prank,” deputy chief state fire marshal Mark Bilger said. “The individual on the phone sounded authentic. She felt confident the information she was being told was in fact the truth, and acted accordingly.”
Those actions included stuffing towels under the door of the second-floor room, according to Aberdeen Police Department spokesman Lt. Fred Budnick. Eventually the pranksters—still on the phone—convinced the guest to remove the lid of the room’s toilet bowl, and use it to break off the sprinkler head.
The resulting water flow damaged eight rooms and the floor below. Damage to the hotel was estimated at $50,000 by the state fire marshal’s office, and damages to its contents were estimated at an additional $50,000. A total of 25 firefighters from the Aberdeen and Aberdeen Proving Ground fire departments responded to the scene.
Later, when members of the Aberdeen Police Department were present at the scene, the pranksters called back and spoke briefly with officers. Budnick said he was not immediately aware of the details of the conversation.
Both Budnick and Bilger said the woman had not been charged with a crime in connection with the incident.
Pranknet is an online community of pranksters which have targeted fast food restaurants and hotels across the U.S. with various hoaxes. The website, which is allegedly based in Canada, has been the subject of investigations in recent years by the FBI.
In most incidents, the prank callers convince individuals to pull fire alarms, trigger sprinkler systems, or break windows or other objects. Several incidents have closely resembled the Aberdeen hoax.
A 2009 investigation by news website The Smoking Gun claimed to have identified the leader of the site, and shed additional light on their activities.