The hugely popular Fortnite earned a whopping $3 billion in 2018 and attracted more than 200 million players worldwide. But Fortnite developer Epic Games isn’t the only one making money off the game. Cybercriminals have been using Fortnite’s in-game currency, V-bucks, to launder money, according to the Independent.
Virtual, in-game money laundering is old news. Back in 2013, a report by security researcher Jean-Loup Richet revealed that online games were becoming increasingly popular venues for criminals to “clean” their money through “the opening of numerous different accounts on various online games to move money.” Most commonly, criminals would send in-game currency to their associates in other countries, who would exchange it for real, untraceable money.
In keeping with Richet’s observations, cybercriminals on Fortnite are using stolen cards to purchase V-bucks from the game’s official store and selling them, discounted and in bulk, on the dark web. A joint investigation by the Independent and Sixgill, a cybersecurity firm, uncovered Fortnite money laundering operations around the globe, being conducted in Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, and English. Sixgill also found that Fortnite items took in more than $250,000 on eBay over a 60-day period last year, although exactly how much criminals are profiting from the scheme is unclear.
Fortnite money launderers are also targeting unsuspecting regular players by running scams on social media. In the game, V-bucks can be bought in bundles to spend on outfits, cosmetics, and other aesthetic attributes. They can’t be spent on anything that would give a player a competitive advantage, and they can’t be purchased outside of the official store. Between September and October 2018, cybersecurity firm Zerofox generated 53,000 alerts relating to Fortnite scams. Scammers lure in players who are looking for cheaper ways to acquire V-bucks by advertising “V-bucks generators” and asking players for personal information, such as Fortnite usernames and passwords and credit card information. Although Fortnite’s age requirement is 12, younger children are reported to play the game. Zerofox warns that they are more likely to fall victims to scams—especially if their parents won’t give them money for the game.
In response to the allegations that its game is being used for money laundering, Epic Games said that it takes the charges seriously. “We encourage players to protect their accounts by turning on two-factor authentication, not re-using passwords and using strong passwords, and not sharing account information with others,” a spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter. But according to Benjamin Preminger, a senior intelligence analyst at Sixgill, Epic isn’t doing enough to tackle security vulnerabilities that enable money laundering schemes. “Epic Games doesn’t seem to clamp down in any serious way on criminal activity surrounding Fortnite, money laundering or otherwise,” Preminger told the Independent. He believes that Epic Games should be monitoring transfers of high-value goods in the game, identifying players with large V-bucks holdings, and alerting authorities when things look suspicious.
So next time you’re looking to save on a new outfit for your Fortnite character by looking to an illegitimate V-bucks generator, take care not to end up an accidental money mule.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.