Following an investigative report in the UK press, the news that the popular online game Fortnite was being used to launder money illegally made headlines right around the globe. Unlike the way in which responsible online casinos are run with real currency being wagered and various tough cybersecurity measures in place, players who have downloaded Fortnite use a virtual currency within the game with few checks. In fact, this is a key part of the game’s commercial success. Prior to the release of Fortnite, most games charged a fee to be downloaded or offered in-app purchases to enable players to gain a competitive edge.
In Fortnite, everyone who plays the game downloads it for free. There is no way to gain an advantage over other players by spending money. This level playing field has proved to be incredibly popular. What players can spend their hard earned money on are decorative elements within the game which don’t impact on the way it is played at all. Essentially, players can purchase the in-game currency, known as V-bucks, in order to alter their avatar. It is thanks to the real world market in V-bucks that money launderers saw an opportunity that they felt they could exploit.
How Is Fortnite Used By Money Launderers?
To be clear, money laundering is an illegal practice virtually all over the world. It is done to change so-called dirty money that has been accrued from illegal activities into clean money which cannot be traced back to its source by the authorities. In the past, criminals would use complex financial arrangements in many different currencies in order to launder their money. Today, financial policing methods have improved to such an extent that the old techniques for cleaning up dirty money are no longer as effective as they used to be. Increasingly, fraudsters have turned to the world of cryptocurrencies instead to make the chain of transactions in a professional money laundering operation harder to trace back to their source. Recently, it turns out, criminals have also been targeting the virtual currency in Fortnite to do the same thing.
The way it works is that a hacker will track down the credit card details of a genuine person, whether they happen to be a Fortnite player or not. With these details, the criminal will open a new Fortnite account. Once within the game world, the hacker can then purchase V-bucks using genuine currency. Because there is a secondary market in Fortnite accounts, it is possible to sell them on to genuine players. What attracts many people to buy an existing account is the fact that it is loaded up with V-bucks which can then be used within the game to alter the account’s avatar. Essentially, buyers spend real money to purchase V-bucks at a discounted rate. To the criminals involved, the minor loss they make due to discounting their V-bucks is of no consequence because they have fraudulently purchased them in the first place. This theft is virtually untrackable by the authorities and the subsequent transaction effectively launders the receipts of the original crime.
Where Are V-Bucks Sold?
Surprisingly, it is not difficult to track down Fortnite accounts which have plenty of V-bucks in them available to buy. In fact, some criminals are fairly open about what they are doing, such is the difficulty of tracking them down. Major sites like eBay have been used to sell Fortnite accounts, for example. Other marketplaces are also used with the criminals tending to make use of so-called dark web technology to hide their identities.
What Can Be Done?
Although cybersecurity experts are focussed on hackers using stolen credit cards, the authorities in many countries are increasingly concerned that professional criminals are laundering their own money through gaming platforms like Fortnite. Given the game’s popularity, any loss that might be made is likely to be minimal and well worth it if it turns a career criminal’s wealth into a usable pile of cash! Experts in the industry are now calling on Fortnite’s developers, Epic Games, to take action with their game’s security measures.
Ideas like keeping track of large-scale transactions through the game have been suggested. Equally, some cybersecurity firms have accused the game’s makers of not cooperating sufficiently well with law enforcement agencies around the world. In addition, selling V-bucks through online marketplaces is a breach of the game’s terms and conditions but little policing seems to be being conducted by Epic Games despite its assertion that it takes the matter seriously.