Hit Game Fortnite’s VBucks Used for Widespread Dark Web Money Laundering

Posted on: January 15, 2019, 07:00h. 

Last updated on: January 15, 2019, 07:17h.

Fortnite Battle Royale has become an online cultural phenomenon. The free-to-play survival shooter garnered 125 million players within a year of its release, leading to concerns that its addictive qualities and use of in-game currency and loot-box microtransactions are introducing children and teenagers to the dynamics of gambling.

Fortnite Battle Royale
Epic Games’ cartoonish shoot-em-up Fortnite Battle Royale is the game of the moment, but is Epic doing enough to prevent illicit practices surrounding its VBucks ingame currency? (Image: Epic Games)

Now, a joint investigation by the UK’s Independent newspaper and cyber security firm Sixgill has revealed that criminals are using Fornite’s in-game currency, VBucks, as a tool to launder money on the dark web.

Thanks to the game’s mind-boggling popularity, fraudsters are buying VBucks using stolen credit card details, which can then be sold on the internet at knockdown prices to no shortage of customers.

Global Operations

Posing as potential buyers, Sixgill employees said they had uncovered fraudulent operations in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, and English.

“Criminals are executing carding fraud and getting money in and out of the Fortnite system with relative impunity,” Benjamin Preminger, a senior intelligence analyst at Sixgill, told The Independent.

“Threat actors are scoffing at Epic Games’ weak security measures, saying that the company doesn’t seem to care about players defrauding the system and purchasing discounted V-bucks… This directly touches on the ability of threat actors to launder money through the game.”

Skin Gambling Scandal

Fortnite’s publisher Epic Games has been more careful about its controlling its in-game currency than some developers in recent years and has largely avoided the third-party skin gambling industry that surrounded games like CounterStrike: Global Offensive (CSGO) and FIFA.

In 2015, a multibillion dollar illegal gambling industry sprang up around CSGO and the trading of skins — collectable designer weapons obtained via loot boxes. The ability for skins to be transferred to third-party sites via a loophole in Steam’s OpenID API allowed them to be used for gambling.

Valve was slow to denounce the industry it had inadvertently created, leaving it open to claims that it was facilitating underage gambling. Lawsuits followed, forcing the company to act.

Account Closures

Fortnite contains no such loophole and, unlike CS:GO’s skins, the trading of VBucks is not permitted. Forums are full of players complaining their accounts have been closed by Epic because they bought VBucks from a third-party source or shared their account with a third party.

But according to Preminger, the developer is still not doing enough to prevent illicit behavior surrounding its game.

“Epic Games doesn’t seem to clamp down in any serious way on criminal activity surrounding Fortnite, money laundering or otherwise,” he told The Independent.

“While completely stopping such criminal activity is extremely difficult, several steps could be taken to mitigate the phenomenon, including monitoring the transfer of high-value goods in the game, identifying players with large stockpiles of V-bucks, and sharing data with relevant law enforcement agencies,” he added.