Gaming has come a long way from the humble days when Pong was played on TV monitors. In fact, the market for video games is expected to reach $90 billion by 2020, with more than 2.5 billion gamers worldwide. Twenty-eight percent of all gamers are under the age of 18, thus making online gaming a hotbed for scammers looking to target children. Parents and young gamers alike should be well-versed in the various tricks and scams being used on players of some of the most popular games. This guide will highlight how young online gamers can protect themselves and keep their personal information secure.
INTRODUCTION TO THE WORLD OF ONLINE GAMING
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 64 percent of U.S. households own a device used to play video games. The average gamer is 34 years old, with 55% of gamers identifying as male and 45% identifying as female. The most common multiplayer video game format is “shooter,” followed by “action” and “casual.” In 2018, the five top-selling games were Red Dead Redemption 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, NBA 2k19, Madden NFL 19, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. However, these statistics don’t count the meteoric rise of free-to-play titles such as Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Minecraft.
In 2018, Fortnite earned Epic Games the highest annual revenue of any game in history, at $3 billion. Through masterful cross-platform integration, marketing, and a unique approach to gameplay, Fortnite has evolved into a full-blown cultural phenomenon. Fortnite “celebrities” have grown in prominence, with Twitch streamer “Ninja” garnering 218 million hours watched in 2018. Concurrently, the rise of esports has catalyzed many hopeful online gamers’ interest in playing competitively. Epic Games is offering a $100,000,000 prize pool for competitive play, and many universities are beginning to integrate esports teams into their traditional athletic departments.
COMMON ONLINE SCAMS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Free-to-play games maintain profitability by offering in-game currency for gamers to acquire cosmetic purchases. One of the most common in-game currencies is Fortnite’s “V-bucks.” Since V-bucks are a highly sought out commodity by players, scammers will often lure unsuspecting minors into compromising their information and security in exchange for V-bucks. Here we will list the various methods these scammers employ to help players stay safe and secure online.
V-Bucks Don’t Grow on Trees
The promise of free V-bucks is often what scammers use to trap young gamers. By offering tools such as “V-buck generators,” victims are lured into providing personal information, such as their parent’s credit card information. Often, the websites that promote V-buck generators are rife with adware and spyware that can affect your computer and network security. Scammers will link their phishing websites through YouTube and Facebook videos targeted at younger viewers.
The security firm ZeroFox identified over a thousand YouTube videos embedded with phony links that had millions of views. Whereas some of these websites falsely promise V-bucks in exchange for clicking ads to gain revenue for the scammers, others trick gamers into providing sensitive financial information. These websites will sometimes look very official, with some scammers going as far as acquiring an encrypted domain in order to look secure.
The most important lesson for young gamers to learn is that there are no workarounds for earning in-game currency. Whether it’s someone posing as an Epic employee or a website that promises an exchange via ad engagement, these offers are not legitimate. V-bucks can only be purchased or earned in-game. This applies to almost all online video games, and young online gamers should be aware how highly targeted this market is by scammers. Always remember:
- Just because a website looks official does not mean it is not predatory. Always double-check the web address (URL) in order to ensure you are engaging on the correct page.
- Never release private information in exchange for in-game currency. Unless you are purchasing it directly from the game’s manufacturer, this is a scam and should be regarded as such.
- Scammers may link from Facebook or YouTube in order to look more official, but in reality, they are merely trying to steal your money and/or information.
- Game company employees will never reach out to you directly with offers or deals.
Why Do Scammers Target Young Gamers?
There are a number of reasons why younger individuals are highly sought out as victims of online scams. First, children are more impressionable and receptive to scammers tactics, and they may be more willing to place trust in strangers online. Further, children’s lack of credit history and bill payments are highly exploitable. Since parents pay little attention to credit files for their children, many instances of identity theft go unnoticed for years. Scammers can use children’s personal information for a variety of purposes, such as opening lines of credit, creating fraudulent contracts, and avoiding prosecution. If you begin receiving pre approved credit cards or collections notices in your child’s name, his or her information has likely been compromised.
When Scammers Aren’t the Problem: In-App Purchase Restrictions
While not necessarily intended to be predatory, many mobile-based applications offer costly in-app purchases. In 2015, a 7-year-old spent almost $6,000 on a mobile game within a few hours. This is a very common problem that many parents have experienced. If your credit card information is saved in your child’s phone, disabling or limiting in-app purchases can protect you from surprising bills at the end of the month.
To disable in-app purchases in iOS, follow these instructions:
- Go to Settings. Tap General and then Restrictions.
- Press Enable Restrictions, then enter a passcode.
- Press the Allow In-App Purchases button to turn it off.
Android doesn’t allow you to turn off the in-app purchases capability, but you can enable a PIN to prevent unnecessary purchases. You can do so as follows:
- Open Google Play.
- Press the Menu button and press Settings.
- Go to the User Controls section.
- Press Set or Change PIN Option and enter a PIN.
- Press Use PIN for Purchases within User Controls.
How Can Parents Protect Their Kids From Scams?
When it comes to the safety of their children online, it is important for parents to maintain honest and open communication about responsible behavior. Here is a list of suggestions about how to create a safe online environment for younger online gamers:
- Make sure your children are aware of the dangers of releasing private information online. Remind them to treat online strangers like they would strangers on the street. Moreover, remind them to be mindful about why a particular website would ask for certain kinds of data.
- Restrict their use of credit or debit cards to purchases through official web-based retailers. Remember that certain phishing scams may seem legitimate on first glance, so always keep track of the URL.
- Keep an eye on the apps that your children download onto their phones. Sometimes scammers will create fake look-alike apps to trick users into providing private information.
FURTHER RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
The Federal Trade Commission offers a wealth of resources for parents on their website. They emphasize communication with your children, suggesting the following conversation topics for parents:
- What games and apps they are playing or using.
- What your family has decided is okay. Are there limits on what they can play, or when and how long they can play?
- Who it’s okay to play games with online.
- Why it’s important not to share personal information, like their address, school, or plans for the weekend.
- How to deal with inappropriate online behavior by another player. You may be able to block the player, or notify a game’s publisher or online service.
Moreover, the FTC recommends that parents familiarize themselves with Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings for the games their children play. The ESRB can help parents decide whether the content of a video game is suitable for the age range of your child and can also explain the type of mature content within the game itself.
The nonprofit organization Enough Is Enough also offers a number of resources for parents on their website’s Internet Safety 101 page. Here, you can find guides on how to limit your child’s access to strangers online, restrict audio chat usage, and control how much time they spend online.
If you or your child encounters predatory behavior, remember to report it in order to protect other vulnerable gamers:
In this new era of online communication, maintaining your child’s privacy should be at the forefront of every parent’s rader. Scammers find new ways to trick young gamers every day, so open communication between parents and children is a necessity. Always be mindful of how online interactions can have real-world consequences.
Entertainment Software Association, “Essential Facts About the Computer Video Game Industry”
Federal Trade Commission, “Protecting Kids Online”
Forbes, “No More Cheats: Gaming Industry Combats Fraud To Protect Sanctity (And Profits) Of The Game”
We PC, “2019 Video Game Industry Statistics, Trends & Data”
Wired, “Fortnite Scams Are Even Worse Than You Thought”
Venture Beat, “NPD 2018: The 20 Best-Selling Games of the Year”