Fortnite: Gaming’s Newest Money Laundering Risk
By: Terri Luttrell
With over 200 million users in over 50 countries, Fortnite is taking the world by storm. Sixty percent of users are aged 18-24 and are harmlessly using the platform as entertainment. Yet, like any other ditigal channel, there are bad actors taking advantage of this online world.
Most BSA/AML professionals have been around video gaming for some time, either as gamers themselves or through their children and/or grandchildren. Similiarly, money Laundering has been a part of the video gaming industry for years, making its peak during the hay day of World of Warcraft. A 2013 report for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that online games were becoming a haven for criminals to launder money by opening many different accounts in numerous online games to move and hide illicit funds. Historically, a common methodology used by criminals was to send gaming currency to their counter-parts in other countries, who would in turn cash out the funds for laundered fiat currency.
Fortnite, arguably the most popular game of the decade, is following the path of WoW and unfortunately being used for money laundering by all sorts of bad actors, including international criminal organizations. Although the official age to play the game is 12, it is widely known that younger children routinely participate and are more easily lured into schemes without being aware.
While the game itself is free, participants are encouraged to purchase Fortnite’s currency, V-Bucks, to buy outfits, cosmetics, weapons and other items. An investigation by The Independent and the cyber security firm Sixgill uncovered that stolen credit cards (many of which are purchased on the dark web) are used to buy V-Bucks through the official Fortnite store, then resold at a discount to unsuspecting players. The illicit funds from the stolen credit cards come out “clean” and integrated back into the financial system. With most Fortnite players being under 18, these children are now unknowingly laundering money for criminal organizations.
The Independent/Sixgill investigation found that mentions of Fortnite on the dark web have risen directly with the game’s monthly revenue. Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, profited $3 billion in 2018; that’s a lot of money for a “free” gaming system.
While this all seems like a parenting problem more than a banking problem, these funds are passing through financial institutions. How do BSA officers monitor for this suspicious activity?
Look for large card purchases with V-Bucks descriptors and well as other large transactions with the keyword Fortnite. These transactions may be quite common, but it should be noted large amounts are not. For reference, the average “skin” or outfit costs between $8 - $20. An “emote” or victory dance ranges from $5 - $8.
Be diligent when monitoring for crypto activity. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are used frequently for the initial dark web credit card purchases.Additionally, look out for signs that a customer or member’s card has been compromised and used for fraud.
Pay attention to any unusual transactions that stray from their normal spending patterns. This includes “test” transactions, multiple transactions of a small dollar amount to test that the card is still valid.
In addition to protecting our U.S. financial system, what can parents and other adult mentors do to protect young people from being used as money mules? As a seasoned public school administrator and current guidance counselor, Beverly Newcomb suggests the following steps be made:
- Talk to their child about the game and the real-world risks involved.
- Have their child play in a public area like a family room, not in a remote bedroom, so that they can monitor game play.
- Watch him or her play now and then, or play along with them – understand the game.
- Encourage their child to play without a headset during online play so that they can monitor what the other players are saying.
The most important thing for players of all ages to understand is that all purchases should only be made from the official Fortnite store or the storefront of the gaming platform that they are using. Criminals are buying V-Bucks in bulk and then reselling these preloaded accounts for a hefty discount. These “deals” are often found on third-party sites like eBay along with social media sites. The top 50 “Fortnite” listings on eBay brought in almost $250,000 in the past 60 days alone. Any large volume or discounted offer is sure to be a scheme; as the saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it most likely is.
Criminals will continue to seek out new and innovative ways to be one step ahead of financial institutions and law enforcement. New money laundering techniques will continue to surface, so we must continue to educate ourselves and our communities. For now, let the kids have fun and be diligent about monitoring your home and your financial institution.