Mobile games are big business. According to TechJury, there are more than 2.2 billion active mobile gamers across the globe. Of these gamers, 56 percent play mobile games more than 10 times a week.
That's a lot of mobile gaming. And the players playing these games are attractive targets for scammers. Con artists can rely on several scams to trick gamers into downloading malware, giving up their bank account or credit card information or spending on skins, weapons and cheat codes that never materialize.
Then there's in-game currency. Many of the most popular mobile games offer players the chance to purchase or earn in-game currency that they can spend on customizing their characters or skipping particularly difficult levels.
Because in-game currency is so popular, cybercriminals have created several scams centering on it, relying on these in-game currency scams to access players' credit card accounts, steal their identities, or turn their mobile devices into Bitcoin-mining tools.
Here's a look at the growing world of game currency scams and the steps you can take to avoid them.
Why gamers fall for currency scams
Why would gamers be so eager for in-game coins and bonuses that they’d fall for scams? It’s all about game play.
In-game currency gives gamers the chance to upgrade to better weapons. It might allow them to buy supplies or cheat codes. Other gamers care about the aesthetics of their characters. With enough in-game currency, they can buy new outfits, skins, or add furniture to their virtual homes.
And today, the most popular mobile games all offer some form of in-game currency. Popular battle game Fortnite offers V-Bucks. Players building virtual homes in Minecraft can collect Minecraft Coins, while Roblox fans can collect currency known as Robux.
And that's just the start. Valorant offers Radianite Points, Call of Duty Warzone players can collect COD Points, Apex Legends gamers hunt for Apex Coins, and DOTA 2 fans collect Shards.
Even sports games offer in-game currency. FIFA has FUT Coins, while Madden Ultimate Team runs on in-game currency known simply as coins.
Many of the companies behind these games offer their products for free. They make much of their money, though, by in-game purchases. Some make money by convincing players to purchase currency.
In a survey published in April of 2020, Top Dollar, a finance website, found that 89 percent of gamer respondents said they spent money on in-game purchases while playing Massively Multiplayer Online games, or MMOs. These are large online games — such as Fortnite — that many gamers can play at the same time.
According to the survey results, players spent an average of $229 during their lives on in-game purchases. The survey, though, found that some players spend significantly more. Top Dollar reported that 28.8 percent of survey respondents said they spent more than $500 on in-game purchases, while 5 percent said they have spent more than $1,000 during their lifetimes.
Players earn in-game currency in two ways: They can either complete tasks in games and get rewarded with V-Bucks, COD Points, or Radianite Points. That can be time-consuming, though. And it’s easier for players to complete especially difficult levels with the extra armor, weapons, or supplies that they can buy with in-game coins.
Gamers, then, often seek shortcuts for acquiring in-game currency. And that’s where scammers come in.
Scammers promise gamers that they’ll provide them with free coins, V-Bucks or shards. Gamers must first download a pack that contains this currency. Of course, once gamers complete the download? That’s when the trouble starts.
Never download “free” in-game currency
If a fellow gamer offers you free in-game currency? Don’t accept the offer.
Scammers often promise gamers free currency. The catch? Gamers must download a software pack to access their free V-Bucks, COD points, or coins. What usually happens is that these downloads contain malware.
This malware might log the keystrokes of victims, giving scammers access to the passwords and usernames gamers use to access their online credit card or banking portals. Scammers can then run up credit card charges or empty victims’ online bank accounts.
Scammers can also use malware to target the Bitcoin wallets of victims. These virtual wallets hold stores of Bitcoin, online currency that consumers can use to make purchases across the Internet. Victims who download what they think are free in-game currencies, might find that they’ve instead downloaded a virus that allows con artists to access and drain their Bitcoin wallets.
Gamers might also receive messages from scammers promising free gaming currency if these gamers first click on a link in an email. This link will often take them to a website that either asks for gamers’ personal and financial information or requests that they click on a link to access their in-game currency.
Once gamers click on the link, they infect their devices with malware. If they instead provide personal and financial information, cybercriminals can steal their identities or use this data to break into their online credit card portals or bank accounts.
Other scams involving in-game currency are surprisingly low-tech. A con artist might promise gamers free currency if the players first send them a payment through PayPal or another peer-to-peer payment system. Once victims send the money? They get nothing in return.
Con artists might ask gamers for the log-in information, including passwords, of their gaming sites, promising that they’ll send free currency once they have this information. The currency, of course, never shows up. The scammers instead use the log-in information to access the credit card information connected to gamers’ gaming accounts.
One more scam? Con artists direct gamers to YouTube videos, promising that gamers will receive in-game currency by watching certain videos. The information under the videos advises gamers to visit a specific site to claim their free currency. That site, most likely, either requires gamers gamers to send personal information or asks them to click on a link that downloads malware to their devices.
How to avoid in-game currency scams
There is good news here: In-game currency scams are easy to avoid. Doing so requires no more than common sense.
Never download “free” currency: If someone offers you a download of in-game currency? Don’t take the bait. No one is going to give you free in-game currency. Any offers from random people you meet on the Internet are most likely a scam.
Only purchase in-game currency from reputable sources: If you want to buy in-game currency, only do it from reputable sources. If you want V-Bucks, for instance, buy them directly from Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite. And remember: Some games don’t allow players to purchase their in-game currency. If you see someone selling such coins, don’t fall for the trap: It could be a scam.
Never give personal or financial information to people you meet over the Internet: Never send someone you’ve met over the Internet your financial or personal information. Criminals can use this information to break into your online bank account, access your online credit card profile or steal your identity.
Keep any eye on your bank accounts, credit card statements: You should always monitor activity in your bank accounts and on your credit cards. If you see any suspicious withdrawals or charges, notify your bank or credit card provider. Your accounts might have been breached by a cybercriminal.
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