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Kids' Safety

Free in-game currency? It’s probably a scam

Nov. 12, 2020

If you play Fortnite, you probably crave V-Bucks, the in-game currency that gamers can spend on outfits, tools and passes that allow you to unlock other goodies for your characters.

Problem is, getting V-Bucks takes either time or money: You can buy V-Bucks directly from Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, or you can earn them by completing time-consuming tasks in the game itself.

One way you can't get V-Bucks? For free from outside vendors.

You might be offered free V-Bucks from your fellow online gamers or by participants in online message boards. Some of these online sources will guide you to YouTube videos that promise you free in-game currency. All you must do is visit a different website.

Be warned, though: If someone is offering you free V-Bucks — or any in-game currency at no cost — you've probably been targeted by a scammer who wants to gain access to your gaming account and your credit card or who wants to use your machine to mine Bitcoin.

The lesson here? Someone offering you free V-Bucks probably isn't doing it to be kind.

The lure of in-game currency

Many of the most popular mobile games — such as Fortnite or Minecraft, an online game centered on building virtual worlds — offer in-game currency. Players can buy this currency — it's called V-Bucks in Fortnite and Minecraft Coins in Minecraft — to purchase items in a game or power up their skills.

Many companies that offer games that are free to download make their money from in-game microtransactions, which are inexpensive purchases made by players. How much money? In a survey published in April 2020 by the Top Dollar finance website, nearly 90 percent of gamer respondents said they spent money on in-game MMO purchases. MMO, by the way, stands for Massively Multiplayer Online game, a large online game that many gamers can play at the same time.

The survey found that players spent an average of $229 on in-game purchases. But some players spend far more than that. A total of 28.8 percent of gamers surveyed by Top Dollar said they have spent more than $500 on in-game purchases. And 5 percent of gamers told Top Dollar that they have spent more than $1,000 on in-game purchases.

If you look at a list of some of the most popular online games — including those you can play on mobile devices — you'll see that most of them offer in-game currency.

Fortnite has V-Bucks, while Minecraft offers Minecraft Coins; Roblox, Robux; Valorant, Radianite Points; Call of Duty Warzone, COD Points; Apex Legends, Apex Coins; and DOTA 2, Shards. In sports, FIFA has FUT Coins, while Madden Ultimate Team offers simply Coins.

You can earn this currency by completing tasks in games — though these tasks are often tedious and time-consuming — or by purchasing them in online stores.

But when someone offers these currencies to you for free, requesting only that you provide the log-in information for your online gaming accounts or that you click on online ads, ignore the offer. The odds are good that you're likely dealing with a scammer.

In-game currency scams

How do cybercriminals scam you with offers of free in-game currency? They might promise you free Robux, Shards, or V-Bucks if you simply provide the account information you use to log onto your favorite mobile games.

But once they have this information? They never send your free currency. Instead, they steal the personal and financial information from your gaming account. This could include your credit card information, meaning that scammers can use your credit card to make fraudulent online purchases.

But that’s just one possible scam. Other scammers might offer you a pack that they want you to download onto your computer. These scammers might promise that the pack contains a mix of in-game currency, uniform upgrades, cheat codes, or other goodies. But when you download the pack? It’s often riddled with malware.

Scammers can use that malware to take control of your computer, spy on your internet surfing habits, access your emails and online financial accounts, or even spy on the keystrokes you hit as you scour the internet.

Sometimes this malware has a specific task. Scammers promising free V-Bucks to Fortnite players have hidden malicious code in what they say are free V-Bucks. When gamers click on a link to get the free currency, malware targets their Bitcoin wallets, online wallets that hold the Bitcoin virtual currency. The scammers can then drain victims' wallets of this currency and use it to make online purchases.

YouTube scams are common, too. Con artists post videos on YouTube promising viewers cheats to gain free in-game currency. The videos' descriptions link to outside websites. When victims click on these links, they are taken to sites that ask for the log-in information to your gaming account. If you provide this information? You again give your account's payment information to a scammer.

Other scammers might promise you free in-game currency if you visit an outside website. Clicking on these links might lead you to a site that is filled with spyware or malware that infects your device.

How to avoid in-game currency scams

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid these scams. The key? Never believe anyone who promises you free in-game currency.

An offer that seems too good to be true? Ignore it

The first step to avoiding in-game currency scams? A healthy dose of skepticism. If someone you meet online promises to give you free in-game currency but also asks you to click on a link or visit an outside website to get it? Ignore that offer.

No one is going to give you free in-game currency. V-Bucks, Robux, Radianite Points, and other gaming currency is too valuable. People who promise to give you this currency for free are likely con artists.

Never click on links at websites you don’t know

If someone asks you to visit a specific website to gain access to free in-game currency, end the conversation. Don’t visit the site. And never click on any links on these sites. Clicking on such links can fill your computer with malware.

Keep your financial information private

Another red flag of a scam? If someone asks you for the log-in credentials to your online gaming accounts, you can be certain you are dealing with a scam artist. These criminals are trying to gain access to your credit card or other financial information. If you’re too trusting and you provide this information? You’re giving scammers the opportunity to run up charges on your credit cards.

Only buy in-game currency from legitimate sources

Yes, you can earn in-game currency during games by completing tasks. But many game manufacturers offer online stores in which you can buy in-game currency directly from them. If you want to spend your money on gaming dollars, only do it from these legitimate sources. Never buy currency from someone you don’t know or from sites not affiliated with game companies themselves.

The bottom line

There’s a reason why so many game makers earn their money from in-game purchases: Players get impatient. By buying power-ups, cheat codes, and in-game currency, they can reach the more interesting stages of a game in less time.

But don’t let that impatience lead you to make poor decisions: Anyone who offers you free in-game currency isn’t doing it to be nice. Gaming dollars have become valuable scams for con artists. Only buy your in-game currency from legitimate sources, and never trust an offer that sounds too good to be true.

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