German cybersecurity firm Kromtech is reporting that criminals are using big free-to-play titles such as Clash of Clans and Clash Royale to launder huge amounts of money. Online criminals reportedly used 20,000 stolen credit cards to make purchases in Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, Kromtech says. Bob Diachenko, communications chief over at Kromtech Security, explained how it was done:
"If you have ever played a free-to-play game you know that most of them require resources of one type or another to play. Whether it be gems, gold, power ups, or other, these resources are required to advance within the game, making them critical to the gameplay. Manually gathering the free resources is a slow process and one can play a game for months working to move up levels. This is where the game makers make their money. They sell resources through "In-App Purchases" to help people play the game and speed up the gameplay. The lure of speeding up your play is a strong incentive to spend money on resources, and many spend to play. This has turned free-to-play games into a multi-billion dollar industry.
"The resources even maintain value after purchase, because in many cases, once bought, they can be traded, adding to the gameplay. The game itself can also be transferred from one account to another. Because of this, resources gathered or bought and games built to advanced levels can also be resold. It is the selling of these on third party markets that holds the door open to the illicit activity that we found taking place."
The stats outlined in the blog look at a handful of games, but the security firm speculates that this sort of money laundering could be taking place across all sorts of free-to-play titles. It seems like a fairly straightforward way of stealing money, and it seems like the problem isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Perhaps it's worth bearing in mind next time you buy in-game items from an unknown third-party.
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