The last time I played a game on a screen was in about 1980, when my friend and I discovered the joys of Pong – that table-tennis-ish game with two bats (OK, white lines) that you moved up and down the court (OK, black screen) to hit the ball (OK, white square) between you. And I do not have teenage children. In all, I am therefore probably not best placed to talk about the intricacies of Fortnite, which Wikipedia tells me is an online game that comes in “three distinct game mode versions that share the same general gameplay and game engine: Fortnite: Save the World, a co-operative shooter-survival game for up to four players to fight off zombie-like creatures and defend objects with fortifications they can build; Fortnite Battle Royale, a free-to-play game where up to 100 players fight to be the last person standing; and Fortnite Creative, where players are given complete freedom to create worlds and battle arenas”. Crucially, they use “V-bucks, in-game currency that can be purchased with real-world funds, but also earned through completing missions and other achievements in Save the World. V-bucks in Save the World can be used to buy piñatas shaped like llamas to gain a random selection of items. In Battle Royale, V-bucks can be used to buy cosmetic items like character models, or can also be used to purchase the game’s Battle Pass, a tiered progression of customization rewards for gaining experience and completing certain objectives during the course of a Battle Royale season”. Yes, that’s piñatas shaped like llamas. Despite (or perhaps because of) this obvious lunacy, Fortnite is a huge success: free to play on a variety of gaming platforms, it has already drawn in over 200 million players.
But all is not well in the world of Fortnite and its V-bucks. From news stories all over the world in recent weeks, we learned that criminals are using Fortnite for laundering: they use stolen credit cards (and stolen identity details) to purchase V-bucks from the Fortnite store and then resell them on the dark web. An investigation conducted jointly by The Independent and cyber security firm Sixgill uncovered “discounted V-bucks being sold in bulk on the dark web as well as in smaller quantities on the open web by advertising them on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter”. The investigation came across “operations being conducted around the globe in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Arabic and English”. According to Benjamin Preminger, a senior intelligence analyst at Sixgill: “Criminals are executing carding fraud and getting money in and out of the Fortnite system with relative impunity… Epic Games [the developer of Fortnite] doesn’t seem to clamp down in any serious way on criminal activity surrounding Fortnite, money laundering or otherwise. 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.” So he’s suggesting collecting client identity details, monitoring their transactions and reporting suspicious activity – where have we heard that before?