Online gaming has become an enormous worldwide industry estimated to be worth more than $15 billion annually. Among the most popular of online games is what’s known as Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO). Played over a computer network, these games support hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously. Gamers playing MMOs do so using either a computer or one of the newer gaming consoles, such as Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, or PlayStation 3.
The gaming industry’s popularity has been increasing year-after-year. 20 million Xbox Live players alone have spent more than 17 billion hours gaming. World of Warcraft, one of the most popular Role Playing Games (RPG) reached 12 million subscribers in November 2011. But you should know that the games you, your friends and/or children are playing may be exposing you to payments fraud or identity theft. Where there is money, there are criminals, and they’re after gamers’ credit card details, personal identifying information (PII), and even virtual world loot, which can be sold for real-world currency via auction sites.
According to iovation, an online fraud prevention technology company, “organized crime in online gaming is a serious and growing problem. Entire businesses have closed due to attacks by cyber criminals, while others not managing chargebacks properly have lost their ability to offer popular payment methods. Fraudsters hijack player accounts, purchase virtual currency using stolen credit cards, sell gaming assets on third-party sites, and create programs that run spam in chat channels from hundreds of fake accounts – all hurting the gaming brand’s reputation and business profits.”
Hijacked accounts have become all too common. How do they get access to your username and password? Some are doing so using social engineering, scammers are able coax information out of live support employees of gaming and game system companies. Because accounts contain credit card numbers, home and email addresses and other PII, gamers exposed to this type of fraud are at great risk of fraud and identity theft.
Another methodology used by fraudsters to obtain access to your account credentials is malware. According to Chris Boyd, Sunbelt Software, ” the development of serious malware and social engineering threats in the world of online gaming has made the environment as risky as other parts of the net. These threats are not being taken seriously enough by either gamers or the industry itself.”
Unscrupulous players are also launching denial-of-service attacks against online gaming rivals, making the gaming network unavailable for use. These gamers can rent botnets to launch a denial-of-service attack against foes in games such as Halo 3 or Gears of War.
Fraudsters also use phishing Trojans designed to steal login credentials of gamers. In 2009 Chinese authorities shut down a crime ring convicted of creating and distributing Trojans targeting players. It is estimated that this particular crime ring stole login credentials from upwards of 5 million gamers and sold them online for a profit estimated to be $4.4 Million.
Your information can also be exposed by data breach. Mid-last year Sony had not one, but two data breaches. The first exposed the PII of 70 million people worldwide. The second affected 25 million individuals who are members of Sony Entertainment. Data breaches are yet another type of security risk associated with online gaming. “The incidents became even more unsettling in light of the fact that many of the affected gamers were kids, teens, and tweens—among the most appealing targets to identity thieves.”
What can you do to help protect yourself and your family? The following suggested tips could lessen your exposure to fraud associated with online gaming:
Never tell anyone your login credentials;
When signing up with gaming companies, consider using a pre-paid card. If you must use a credit card be sure to remove your details after sign-up and do not store them for automatic renewals;
If possible, use an alias, not your real name;
Be sure to install virus, spyware and malware protection;
Never enter personal information from an unsecured network, such as an Internet café;
Use anti-phishing software and delete any unsolicited email;
Use caution when opening email attachments;
Always use a strong and unique password;
Usernames should never give away your name, gender, date of birth, or other personal identifying information; and
Avoid downloading or purchasing game cheat codes since they could include malware or keylogging viruses to capture your information.
 Online Gaming Association. Gaming News Buzz Trends Stats 2010 – 2011.http://www.onlinegamingassociation.com/statistics/
 Blizzard Entertainment. “World of Warcraft Subscriber Base Reaches 12 Million Worldwide.” http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/press/pressreleases.html?101007
 John Leyden, RegHardware.com. Everything you ever wanted to know about Xbox Hacking. http://www.reghardware.com/2010/02/21/xbox_hacking_phishing_analysis/
 PlayNoEvil.com. Xbox Live Denial of Service Griefing Attacks – The Perils of Peer Gaming. http://playnoevil.com/serendipity/index.php?/archives/2411-Xbox-Live-Denial-of-Service-Griefing-Attacks-The-Perils-of-Peer-Gaming.html
 Credit.com “Game On: 12 Tips for Safer Online Gaming.” http://www.credit.com/blog/2011/11/game-on-12-tips-for-safer-online-gaming/