After games boom in pandemic, gangs are using phishing and malware to cheat fans out of money and reveal their personal data
Players of online video games such as Roblox, Fortnite and Fifa are being warned to watch out for scammers, amid concerns that gangs are targeting the platforms.
Multiplayer games boomed during the pandemic lockdowns as people turned to socialising in virtual spaces.
One of the UK’s biggest banks, Lloyds, is so concerned about how games are being used that it will this week launch a warning code for players, and a character to go with it.
Its research found that a fifth of gamers had either been a victim of a gaming-related scam, or knew someone who had, but less than a third said they knew how to spot one.
“Scammers are always looking for new ways to trick people out of their money, and the world of video games is no exception,” said Philip Robinson, fraud prevention director at Lloyds.
“These are often organised criminal gangs who don’t care about who they are defrauding and will happily groom young players to gain their trust and access their personal information.”
The research found that the average player spent 14 hours a week onscreen, and that gamers were spending more time, and money, in-play than before.
“Add to this an environment where interacting with and trusting strangers has been somewhat normalised, and you have a rich environment that is ripe for a fraudsters’ picking,” Robinson said.
The scams vary in complexity. Lloyds said gaming console fraud, where scammers trick victims into buying machines that they never receive, were among the most common types of purchase scams reported by its customers.
One common crime involves fraudsters tricking people into downloading malware on to their device, often through advertising add-ons to a game at a cheaper price than the official channels are charging.
Phishing exercises, where players are persuaded to give away valuable personal details, are also common, using emails and in-game chats, while some gangs are reportedly using the platforms to recruit money mules – bank customers who agree to have money paid into their accounts.
One 20-year-old gamer who was interviewed for the research reported getting a notification that there had been an unusual login to their gaming console account from Saudi Arabia. “I then tried to load up my account and I realised that my email address had been changed and I had been locked out … It turned out that the fraudster had managed to change the name, email, password and other account details, while also having the capacity to spend money on the debit card linked to my account.”
The code – a set of guidelines to help gamers protect themselves – will urge people to “Shield”: an acronym for actions including screening chats with strangers and hiding personal details.
The gaming companies’ UK trade association, Ukie, said the code would help players to be on their guard. Its chief executive, Jo Twist, said: “Games are a hugely popular form of entertainment for all ages, and games businesses work incredibly hard to ensure players have a secure and enjoyable time within games themselves.
“Malicious fraudsters, however, are always looking for opportunities to scam consumers in an online world.”
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Three years ago, Action Fraud, the body which collects reports of scams, warned that criminals were targeting players of Fortnite.
In most cases, gamers had seen an advert on a social media site saying that if they followed a link and submitted some information they would get free V-Bucks, Fortnite’s in-game currency.
The details were used to log in to the game and run up charges, or sell on the accounts to other players. On average, players had lost £146 each through the scams.