Despite the economic disruption caused by coronavirus, the global video game industry is thriving. With social distancing reducing physical interaction to a minimum and encouraging people to stay at home, people are turning to virtual worlds for escapism from the crisis. US video game sales hit their highest level in over a decade in March, and gaming industry giants across the board have all reported significant increases in user numbers.
But the increase in audience engagement has highlighted the risks of online gaming, as coronavirus scammers seek to exploit the situation. Because many online games involve in-game currency, in-game purchases, and real-world currency (stored in wallets), they offer a target for fraudsters.
Young people may be less aware of the risks and, therefore, are more susceptible to them. To understand the risks of online gaming and ways to keep you and your family safe, read o to learn more.
For most users, online gaming is a harmless activity. But there are risks, some of which include:
This is when online gaming goes beyond fun and turns into an obsession – absorbing large amounts of time.
Cyberbullying occurs when a teen or younger child uses a computing device to threaten, humiliate, or otherwise harass a peer. It can take place in online multi-player gaming chats (through connected devices such as Xbox Live and others).
In-game currency, in-game purchases, and real-world currency stored in wallets present a target for scammers.
Sometimes users are prompted to download a software plug-in to play a particular game. They may then be redirected to other sites where malicious software may be executed to damage the user's device's security and privacy. Viruses may be embedded in-game files which the user may unknowingly allow onto their system during installation.
By piecing together data from games and other sources, hackers may be able to access other existing accounts such as social media or establish new accounts—even entire digital identities—in your name.
Some online games use the "freemium" model, which means they give you some content for free. However, for full game features, functions, and access — payment is required. In some cases, these games require users to attach a credit card to their gaming profile and their card is automatically charged whenever users purchase new items or services.
Most of the online gaming scams taking place are simply recycled versions of previous scams but have increased in frequency because more people have been online during the pandemic.
Examples of common online gaming scams include:
These look like genuine websites where users can buy add-ons, such as outfits, weapons, or new abilities, or purchase a way to generate online currency for use in the game. However, these are fake and trick users into completing transactions for purchases or rewards they will not receive.
An IP address is a unique internet location for each user. Once attackers have your IP address, they could discover your physical address, full name, and other sensitive information. With those details, hackers could carry out attacks to steal your financial and gaming account information.
This is a gaming version of the well-known phishing scam in which a user is tricked into giving away his or her account details. Fraudsters will send an email to gamers telling them they need to confirm their password and login information. If gamers click on the email link, they are taken to a fake sign-in page that asks them to input their current password and username — ultimately stealing the gamer's account information.
Once downloaded, these fake apps install malware on victims' phones or computers. Scammers use the malware to capture the details of gamers’ online accounts, such as those used to access the online offerings of popular video game platforms and consoles. They use these details to steal sensitive user information such as credit card information, home address, and phone numbers.
Cybercriminals may groom children through in-game voice chat while at the same time, getting the kids to pay for things in the games for them — typically using their parents' credit cards. Sometimes these scammers convince kids to tell them their login details or open a link they send them — to obtain access to the child's account.
Once the cybercriminal gets the information, they can steal virtual credits, online currency, or even real-world currency in the child’s online wallet. Virtual currency and the stolen accounts can then be sold on the dark web, making a significant amount of real-life money in the process, and the real-world funds in the wallets are extracted.
One way to stay safe is by using a VPN. VPN stands for "Virtual Private Network" and makes your personal internet connection — private.
VPNs are easy to install and require little configuration to use, and benefits include:
There are VPN clients available for Mac, Android, PC, and Apple iOS.
At Kaspersky, we offer VPN Secure Connection, which can be installed across several different devices and operating systems.
You can find some free VPNs. However, these will typically have data restrictions and may not provide you with complete protection.
If you or someone you know has been victimized by an online game scam:
If you are a parent concerned for your children, consider getting Kaspersky Safe Kids: it is designed to protect your kids online. It includes an app on your child's device plus an app on your phone, which lets you see reports and customize settings. It also allows you to manage access to games and inappropriate apps.
However, despite the risks we've outlined, it is important to stay socially connected during physical distancing — and online video games offer us a chance to do that. Just remember to be aware of coronavirus gaming scams, get cybersecurity installed on all your devices, and play safely.