By Tim Reid
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the age of Facebook and Twitter, a new crime has hit America: "Sharpie parties," gatherings of party revelers armed with "Sharpie" magic markers and lured by social media invitations to wreak havoc on foreclosed homes.
Five years into the U.S. foreclosure crisis, Sharpie parties are a new form of blight on the landscape of boarded-up homes, brown lawns and abandoned streets. They are also the latest iteration of collective home-trashing spurred by social media.
At least six Sharpie parties were reported in one California county in recent months, where invitations posted online drew scores to foreclosed homes.
The partygoers are handed Sharpie pens on arrival by their hosts and urged to graffiti the walls - a destructive binge that often prompts other acts of vandalism including smashing holes in walls and doors, flooding bathrooms and ripping up floors.
The California spree follows a similar outbreak earlier this year, when teenagers wrecked homes in states including Texas, Florida and Utah after seeing the movie Project X. The film features a house wrecking party sparked by online invitations.
Anna Hazel, an investigator in the Merced district attorney's office in central California, said the use of social media is a very effective way for partygoers to find the address and to track the progress of the party.
It also provides a treasure trove of evidence for the police.
Hazel said in her most recent case of "extensive destruction" to a foreclosed property, the host of the Sharpie party posted an invitation to "Matt's House of Mayhem" on a Facebook page.
At least 100 people turned up. Hundreds of smartphone text messages describing the party were also sent.
They drank alcohol, scrawled profanities on walls, smashed glass, tore up parts of the house and left garbage strewn everywhere.
"We obtained search warrants for Facebook accounts," Hazel said. "It was very useful to us to get access to the social networks. They posted pictures of the party. They were brazen about it."
Three men, aged 21, 24 and 30, were arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism, burglary and conspiracy. One of them was the son of the evicted former owner.
"The Sharpie party is the newest twist here," said Larry Morse, the district attorney in Merced County, California. Morse said he has investigated vandalized homes after six "Sharpie parties" in recent months.
Andy Krotic, a Californian realtor, said: "It's a growing fad among young people, especially the Twitter crowd. They throw a big party, everyone gets a Sharpie, and they are invited to write on the walls and spray paint."
Krotic said in one recent case partygoers shot arrows through the wall, hitting a room in a neighbor's house.
Banks that own the foreclosed homes are reluctant to pursue the perpetrators, Krotic says, because they don't have the resources to hunt down the miscreants. Even if they're caught, the unwanted publicity from their prosecution would likely incite more parties.
"Usually they leave the damage and just drop the price," Krotic said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken)