Avoiding Popular Online Video Game Scams

Over the years automation has taken a powerful hold on online social commentary and allows fraudsters to launch their attacks and scams at scales never seen before. While you’re online, you’re going to want to think of your personal and financial safety when you engage in any monetary transaction. The thing is, it’s very easy to blur the lines between what’s a monetary transaction online and what’s a simple click of a button.

Fraudsters use this and launch complicated attacks via bots and other methods to target online users in a variety of categories. Scammers are going try everything they can to separate you from your possessions (virtual and real). Today we’re going to delve into the nuances of scams in the world of video games and MMOs, however the best place to start with the topic is the US Government’s “How to Avoid a Scam” article produced by the FTC. Some more technical tips are provided by the FBI. For issues in regarding debt, loans, etc. the CFPB is a great resource as well.

The FTC guide is one of the most authoritative and fact based guides out there. So I highly encourage you to start there. It’s best to source information on scams from authoritative sources such as the government, your bank, your financial advisors, your tax advisors, etc. At anytime you’re questioning if something is okay, STOP and seek professional help.

If nothing else slow down and think. Oh and never let anyone remote into your PC unless you absolutely are sure they should.

Below is some video game specific tips on avoiding scams that we think are helpful along with some additional links to resources.

In-Game Scams

  • Do not trade items in a non-secure way. Do not drop items to trade. Double check the trade window. Google the trade to make sure the item cost is in parity with the trade.
  • Do not engage in real world currency exchanges for in-game items for games that strictly forbid this.
  • There’s nothing wrong with paying other players for services in the game, however, video game companies can’t assist in recovering funds from outside of the video game. Always look to pay with in-game currency when possible. For instance, if you’re paying for boosts in WoW then see if they’ll take WoW tokens as payment or gold vs. paying outside of the video game.
  • Third-Party sites, platforms, etc. are never very secure. They often have data breaches, lose your credit card information, etc. If you’re paying for a third-party site (like a premium website upgrade or some kind of in-game log processing site) then always use a card that has great fraud protection and/or virtual cards that allow you to set limits.

Remote PC / Teamviewer Scams

Teamviewer-esq scams can occur where outdated passwords are used to login to Teamviewer or some other remote application. Then the ner’do’well just goes in and automatically logs into things, likely Amazon or whatever and tries to buy stuff. This extends to video games, especially for players with high end accounts. They’ll remote in and just loot everything and mail it to themselves, etc. Do note that this also applies if they get your game password; best keep it secure.

Here’s what sucks about this! It comes from your computer on your IP address through the normal way you login. Your email is often already signed in so two-factor authentication fails via email. They can even, if for instance they have your Verizon account login, sign-in and reroute the text messages to an online portal to finish the 2FA. Then when they’re in, they can talk to their mule account or whatever they’re offloading your items with as if they are you and are okay with the transaction. This can be a nightmare to untangle; that’s assuming they don’t try to do a shopping spree too!

For this you’re going to want to turn off any remote login applications unless you need to use them and make sure to follow best practices. Teamviewer has a great article on this if you use the software.

FOMO & The Retro / Limited Market

Not all scams are just fraudsters. Some are just capitalists working the system. In our article about Game Grading Scams, we go over some info about how grading works and if it’s a scam in of itself (it’s technically not). The market itself though is not very hardened and price fluctuations are intense. So before you grab an old copy of Skies of Arcadia maybe do a lot of research. PriceCharting can help here.

On top of that you have a plethora of issues in the retro market (PS3/Xbox 360 and back). There’s a ton of FOMO about scarcity although that’s been resolved in the limited edition market. Most limited editions today are released with plenty of copies, often never selling out for days if not weeks. Prices have gone up and down on limited copies as a game ages and the desire for it wanes or the hype collapses.

For instance, in 2020 Limited Run Games sold a Castlevania Collector’s Edition. This edition was in production for over a year sold retail for $199. Estimations, due to the long production time, was that this collection would appreciate. The game arrived in 2022 and I’ve seen fully sealed copies go for $150 or less because the hype/demand/etc. isn’t there anymore.

In the retro market you have counterfeiting. Here’s an article from Kotaku of someone who offloaded $100k in fakes but odds are, those cheap DS games on eBay are counterfeits along with the GBA and GB games. Do your research before you invest.

Person to Person Payment Scams

  • There’s a lot of P2P payment apps out there. You have Cash App, PayPal, Venmo and Zelle as the popular three. When paying someone with a P2P app, you need to consider the payment method and just why. When it comes to video games, when buying physical copies you’ll likely need to use one of these payment methods but if you’re just trading in a game really ask yourself if this is the right thing.
  • Cash App, PayPal and Venmo allow business profiles. PayPal and Venmo (same company) offers some purchase protection, but virtual goods are often excluded so please read the terms.
  • Zelle, in my opinion, is the safest and most secure way to send money as nothing leaves your bank account except the cash (no info, no bank account info, no card numbers, etc.) but once the money has been sent, it has been sent and can’t be called back. Make sure to only use Zelle with trusted users.
  • Never pay someone directly by giving them your card details. If you have any questions about your risk in a person-to-person payment, take a visit to your local banking branch or call your bank and ask them for advice on the transaction. They’ll walk you through your protections and offer advice; most bank websites also have great anti-scam information.

Discord / Telegram / Reddit / YouTube / WhatsApp Scams

  • Report anyone who messages you offering you free premium currency. Premium currency is premium for a reason and no game company is going to have bots roaming around the Internet handing out free premium currency.
  • If you don’t know the person and didn’t solicit the conversation then assume they’re scamming you.
  • Download literally nothing unless the game publisher/developer is cool with it. Not only can you get malware, viruses, etc. but you can also get banned from the game for using third-party software. Mods should come from Steam Workshop or some official mod database. Don’t load Cheat Engine scripts. Don’t open any macros or AutoHotKey scripts.
  • There is never anything in the comments section anywhere that’s going to give you anything. Avoid comments that offer anything.
  • If you’re ever overwhelmed, check out the Discord Crisis Text Line.

Gift Card Scams – There is No Free Robux

There is no free Robux, WoW Gold, premium currency, gems, advances, time skips, potions, skill potions, premium hats, premium skins, Steam Wallet Funds, PS+, Xbox Game Pass, etc. unless it comes directly from the source and in those cases you are often never required to do anything for any freebies beyond “claim gift” or on the Epic / Steam Stores “Install” or “Add to Library.” Anything more than that and it’s a scam.

Example of Discord Scams
Yeah, hit ignore 100%. There is no free anything here.

The only freebies are offered through official platforms and through their process. There are free games for instance given monthly to Amazon Prime Users in the Amazon Prime / Twitch portal. There’s free games on the EPIC Store and Steam where you add them to your library. There’s lots of valid giveaways out there that you have to enter to win something (and lots of giveaways that are scams too; never pay to enter a giveaway).

Scam Avoidance Resources

Here are some of my favorite resources to have to learn about scams online and elevate your knowledge:

Cheryl Brown is a video game journalist with 7 years of experience. She is known for her in-depth analysis of the gaming industry and her ability to connect with her audience. Cheryl has worked for several gaming publications where she has written numerous articles and reviews. Her passion for gaming began at a young age, and she has since become an expert in the field. Cheryl is also an advocate for diversity in gaming and has spoken at several conventions on the topic. She believes that video games have the power to bring people together and create positive change in the world. Cheryl is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she earned a degree in journalism.