If you watched Season 1 of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime then there was probably a moment when you were all ‘holy crap, these terrorists are using video games to commit crimes in broad daylight!’ Well, this is basically that, only in this instance it was all happening in real life and not on some TV show.
Video game developer Valve runs a marketplace on Steam for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in-game upgrades. Players could earn elite weapons upgrades and other game/avatar enhancements but in order to unlock those items they’d need keys. Players could buy and trade the keys and boxes with upgrades on the Steam marketplace but Valve discovered that ‘nearly all’ of these transactions were being used to launder money on a massive scale.
On Monday, CS:GO was patched with an explanation detailing why those ‘container keys’ will no longer be able to be sold on the marketplace and are henceforth tied to the purchasing account. They are still allowing pre-existing CS:GO container keys to be sold unaffected by this change.
Here is where the company admits to the ‘worldwide fraud networks’ using their container keys and marketplace to facilitate illicit transactions:
Why make this change? In the past, most key trades we observed were between legitimate customers. However, worldwide fraud networks have recently shifted to using CS:GO keys to liquidate their gains. At this point, nearly all key purchases that end up being traded or sold on the marketplace are believed to be fraud-sourced. As a result we have decided that newly purchased keys will not be tradeable or marketable.
For the vast majority of CS:GO users who buy keys to open containers, nothing changes; keys can still be purchased to open containers in their inventory. They simply can no longer be traded or transacted on the Steam Community Market.
Unfortunately this change will impact some legitimate users, but combating fraud is something we continue to prioritize across Steam and our products.
It’s not clear who was using these microtransactions to launder money, if they’re part of known criminal enterprises, or which countries this was taking place in. All we know (so far) is what we learned in the Counter-Strike blog post.
What’s next for the CS:GO fraudsters? Well, Twitter users have some theories….
According to VICE, who published this news yesterday, this isn’t the first time Counter Strike has been the focus of fraud.
There was a case back in 2015 where two YouTubers were advertising ‘gambling websites’ that would allow users to gamble their Counter-Strikes in-game skins and those YouTubers didn’t disclose that they owned the websites. According to VICE, the YouTubers eventually settled with the Federal Trade Commission.