The Hidden Link Between Online Gaming and Money Laundering

Online threats are constantly evolving. Cybercriminals are opportunistic in nature and adjust their tactics to match our patterns of behaviour. It comes as no surprise, then, that online gamers are the latest target of online criminals.

People from all over the world spend hours every day battling it out online against both friends and strangers. Naturally, online gaming safety is becoming an increasing concern for online security experts, government agencies and gamers themselves.

This is, in part, due to the wide variety of threats that gamers face. There are many avenues through which cybercriminals might choose to target and use their victims. One of these is money laundering.

What is money laundering?

Money laundering refers to the process of making ‘dirty’ money ‘clean’. Still confused? Let’s start with a few definitions.

‘Dirty’ money refers to money that has been obtained through illegal means. It can be difficult for criminals to make actual use of the money they have made through robberies and scams, particularly if they have stolen a comprehensive amount. If you cannot explain how you came into hundreds of thousands of dollars, suspicions are likely to be raised. 

In order to make ‘dirty’ money ‘clean’, criminals tend to follow these three steps:

  • Placement: The stolen money must be placed into the financial system, for example, deposited into a bank account.
  • Layering: The source of the money must be concealed, which is where ‘layering’ enters the picture. A series of transactions between multiple accounts (located both onshore and overseas) are ‘layered’ on top of each other to cover up the true total and origin of the funds.
  • Integration: Money is returned to the criminal through what appears to be legitimate sources. 

How does this relate to online gaming?

Online gaming is one of the world’s most popular forms of entertainment. The Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding lockdowns saw us turn to Steam, Xbox and PlayStation like never before, with people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying the competitive and social release that gaming provides. 

Cybercriminals have taken note of this. Online security experts have warned that gaming-related cybercrime is on the rise, with many platforms and players failing to employ basic internet security principles to protect themselves. 

Not only is online gaming a growing industry, it is also a profitable one. Gaming companies make millions from selling the games themselves, as well as through in-game transactions. Gamers purchase money, armour and weaponry to upgrade their in-game experience and this is where money laundering enters the picture. 

Most games prohibit the trading of in-game currency (known as e-currency) however it is a much sought after resource and gamers will often do whatever they can to get their hands on it. Cybercriminals have been known to use dirty money to purchase e-currency, which they then sell to eager gamers in exchange for bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are completely untraceable, and so the dirty money seamlessly disappears into the system. 

Protecting yourself online

If you are looking to give yourself an added advantage in an upcoming battle, you should remember that purchasing e-currency from sellers other than the official gaming platform is illegal in most games. While you are unlikely to be in any direct danger, a criminal looking to launder money is not someone you want to be associating with. 

Launderers often use stolen credit cards to fuel their activities. Be wary of any strange messages you receive asking you to verify your identity or confirm your financial information. Monitor your accounts for suspicious activity and immediately report unknown transactions to your financial institution.

The dark web is a haven for the exchange of personal information that can be used to commit crimes including money laundering and identity theft. If you believe that your information has been stolen through a data breach, consider investing in dark web monitoring to mitigate any possible damage.

Best gaming security practices

Money laundering conducted through online gaming platforms is on the rise. Security experts expect that gaming companies will soon take steps to prevent cybercriminals from taking advantage of their commerce systems.

However, this is not the only threat faced by online gamers. The social nature of gaming, alongside the amount of personal information that tends to be required when signing up to an account, means that gamers are the perfect target for cybercriminals. 

Protect yourself while playing online by following these strategies:

  • Avoid opening suspicious links: As tempting as it may seem, that email you received from an unknown sender offering free game upgrades is probably spam and may cause malicious damage to your computer. Never click on suspicious looking links.
  • Protect your account: When signing up to a gaming platform, you typically have to provide your name and email address. You may also be asked to share your date of birth, location and credit card details. In the wrong hands, this information can cause serious damage. Protect yourself by using a different username and password combo for every account, setting strong passwords, and using two-factor authentication wherever available. 
  • Only download legitimate applications: Games can be expensive but that price tag ensures that you are protected from dodgy downloads that can riddle your device with malware. Only ever download games from legitimate sources and report any fake applications that you find on gaming stores.
  • Use gamer antivirus software: Gamer antivirus software is designed to protect gamers from top threats to their online safety including DDoS and doxing attacks, webcam hacking, viruses, malware, and phishing attempts.

Online gaming is not often associated with money laundering but it is a real and significant problem. Protect yourself while battling it out online by always being on the lookout for suspicious behaviour and employing good internet security practices. 

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