Money laundering with Fortnite
by D. Crijns, AMLC, February 2019
I previously wrote a background article in which I examined the possibilities of money laundering by means of the game values used in internet games. Game values may be anything from gold and coins to crowns and swords. In short anything that can make you attractive in a game. Last month several publications showed that the aforementioned article was more than just a theoretical exercise and that such things actually happen in games like Fortnite.
Fortnite is a free online game which went online at the end of 2017 and is now played by more than 200 million people (accounts). According to the latest information the developer, Epic Games, realised a turnover for this game in the month of August 2018 alone of $318.3 million. The total profit of the company over 2018 was about $ 3 billion. In the game world this is one of the bigger games with numerous player accounts, and therefore highly suited for undetected use or misuse for other purposes.
The essential nature of the misuse of game values in Fortnite is that the means of payment used in the game, known as ‘V-bucks’, are acquired on a large scale through bank accounts or payment credits that are stolen by such means as phishing. Using these V-bucks, attractive and expensive game goods such as weapons and clothing are purchased in the Fortnite shop. After that they are offered through all kinds of website (or dark web site) in all the major world languages at large discounts. For other players this is a very tempting way to acquire game goods cheaply. The advantage for the criminal is that he ultimately acquires money for which it is extremely difficult to trace the origins. The criminal income has been converted first into game values and then into gaming items. Apart from such concealment the game can also be used for legitimization purposes because it is easy to pretend that the profits came from the game. A two month survey on eBay alone produced 53,000 signals pointing to this phenomenon with Fortnite gaming goods.
Cheap is expensive
It has already been shown that purchasing game goods in this way not entirely without risk for bargain hunters. The sellers attempt to gain access to the game account of the buyer, by tempting him to hand over personal data for example, or by phishing. We know what happens if they succeed. The bank account may be plundered, or the game value and V-bucks taken directly out of the account of the purchasing player and transferred to a criminal account. Instead of finding a bargain, the purchaser is robbed.
The developer of the game
Epic Games has indicated that they are taking such abuse very seriously, urging players to keep their password absolutely secret under any circumstances. They also say that in January they made it impossible for an account to be taken over using relatively simple means. But it is still somewhat doubtful as to whether they truly understand what is involved here. This is not simply a matter of theft from the players. The fact is that their game, Fortnite, is being used as a tool in the money laundering process.
If you would like to know more about the risks of abuse in connection with internet games, how the entire system works, or how the exchange of game values for real money takes place using so-called RMTs, see my previous article (Online games and money laundering). And as always: if you see possible signs of this kind of fraud in the Netherlands, do not hesitate to contact the AMLC through AML.Centre_Postbus@belastingdienst.nl.