PSA: Steam and the Rise Of Unfettered Fraud

More developers getting banned using their games for scams.

Steam is no stranger to shady “developers” pulling scams, but over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in a very specific and not at all new form of fraud; in-app purchases. The subject I’m talking about in this article is very shaky, because pretty much all of the commentary we have on it is from very poorly translated Chinese accounts on the forums and in reviews, often laden with a lot of profanity and vulgarity that doesn’t quite make the leap over the language barrier.

Whenever a game gets banned on Steam, I dutifully report on it while checking the forums and reviews to suss out a plausible explanation. Since Valve doesn’t give us a reason and most developers don’t speak openly about the bans, all we can do most of the time is speculate. Sometimes the answer is obvious, sometimes not so much. The last few weeks however have brought forward a continuous loop of developers getting banned for seemingly the same reason; fraud.

Specifically, their forums and reviews tend to be laden with accusations that the person’s Steam account was hacked and used to make in-game purchases. The titles accused of the scams, unsurprisingly, are Chinese. The users are also predominately Chinese. And Korean sometimes.

As the latest example we’ll take a look at Bumper Car, a Chinese game banned just a few hours before this article gets published. Check out this review;

Black heart steam? I have never seen this game, but the money was deducted directly from my wallet. I clicked to apply for a refund. It said that this game is free, and that any promotional items cannot be refunded. I found that this game is free, but I I used the money in my wallet to buy the gold coins in this game, I don’t even know?, I still can’t refund the money, and this game is not in my library, what’s the situation? ?

There’s a bunch of users claiming they were automatically charged upwards of $20 or more for the game, not for the game itself which was free but for in-app purchases. The kind Valve are generally stricter on refunding.

I’ve never heard of this game, why did it cost me 19 bucks

The game’s forums are covered with comments about players having their accounts hacked into and wallets drained to buy gold coins in this game. The good news is that if the comments are to be believed, Valve had since stepped in to refund affected customers on a lot of these titles. They’re not going to ban a game and just let the dev cash out, evidently.

Me too, my account was stolen, I refunded the newly bought game, and then charged a bunch of gold coins.

Those of you who follow FIFA will know that EA’s title is regularly the target of fraud, with accounts being hacked to buy FIFA points that are then traded off account by criminals. My expectation is that a similar thing is happening here, the devs just don’t seem to be getting away with it. And if Bumper Car was the only game doing this I’d chalk it off as a one time thing. But it ain’t. And it’ll probably crop up again in the next couple of days.

Two days ago Xiaoxiaole got banned off of Steam. The developer has since scrubbed the forums but they are unable to delete all of the reviews claiming players were hacked and had their money funneled into the game via in-app purchases. Some to the tune of a meager 7-8 yuan. That’s a buck. Like the dev can’t find your wallet he’ll steal the change in your ashtray.

Thankfully some nerd on the internet mentioned it at the time.

But our story still continues. Three days ago Valve banned an absolute busload of porno games. That has nothing to do with this article, I’m just short on my quota for the word “porno” this month. I think I’ve met it now. Porno. That’s good. Porno. Let’s move on.

Nearly a week ago Valve massacred a developer that going forward I’ll simply refer to as ST Games as they operate under separate shell accounts that shockingly didn’t stop them from getting rounded up. Most of ST Games titles are innocuous even if they do look like absolute garbage. But once you get to blockit_st, we see the same trend; predominately Chinese users accusing the developer of stealing their account and funneling their wallet into in-app purchases.

This is a game that scammers use to launder money My account was logged in from different places, then I returned the game I just bought, and the money was charged into the game

Logic would seem to dictate that most people who get their accounts hacked will claim that they took precautions. I’m not so sure on that. While I certainly don’t want to cast aspersions on users, I also want to point out that it’s far more likely that Chinese users weren’t securing their accounts as opposed to Valve having a security breach that got used for this.

One more comment;

wallet money gone Can any brothers explain how they bypassed me to log in to my account? Also added the game and gave me in-game purchases. I didn’t receive the verification code email at all. I’m so angry.

And another;

I was hacked. The hacker spent more than 700 yuan in this game, and even used my account to play pubg. This is obviously a bad game made by the hacker.

I’m not sure how this properly translates to English but I get the gist of it. This one is from 2048_st, a game by the same developer and another one full of claims of fraudulent transactions from hacked accounts. I don’t know what the Chinese have against Myanmar but there’s a few similar insults.

Your mother was slept by ten thousand people The author of this game. Was your mother slept in northern Myanmar?

Wanna see something cool? Rebirth – Land of the Zombies is an absolute dog ass shooter that only the Romine brothers could love. But what Rebirth has that The Slaughtering Grounds didn’t is an item marketplace. How? Why? I have no clue. Generally you’re supposed to pass a trust threshold, and somehow the devs did that despite having 0 active players and peaking at 3.

If there’s one topic I love talking about here at MMO Fallout more than porno games and fraud, it’s money laundering. The Lee Enfield is one of the items on Rebirth’s marketplace. Check this crap out;

Now what you’re seeing here is a game that has no players marking more than 70 sales over the course of about a week between December 16 and December 21 for a single item with a median sale price ranging between $108 and $182. Note the $300+ on December 10. Those are some fake-ass transactions if I’ve ever seen them. There’s a bunch of low transactions at the start of the month but it really kicks off on December 10. Keep that date in the front of the back of your brain.

But it gets better. The second Lee Enfield had 8 transactions on one day on December 21 at a median price of $208. The third version had 31 units sold over two days on December 20 and 21 to the tune of $140-$150 each. #4 had dozens sold between December 24 and 27 at the $120-$140 mark. Crazy, right? Well over a hundred transactions in the span of a very specific few weeks in December at extremely high prices for a game that literally nobody plays. And once you hit December 27 on the board, the transactions all cease. Like they’re coordinated or something. There’s an item called Generator A on the list.

The game save the girls, also a really crappy zombie asset flip, also has 126 individually listed Steam marketplace items. And if you go through the list you start seeing items with transactions to the tune of $90+ consistently over a specific time period. That period? December 10 through the 16 for the most part. Again this is a game that had no players; a peak of 10 and persistently 0. I’m also fairly certain that this is the same developer as Rebirth, because a few of the items overlap. These weird listings called “Generator A.”

The game “To Hell” had a period of five days over which eight of its truncheon items were sold on the market for $230-$290 apiece. December 16 through the 21. Completely identical to the seven other truncheon items that didn’t sell on the marketplace for zilch. To Hell has a Generator item listing.

The game Bliss Maze had a set of colorful stairs sell two units on December 10 for $336 each. A set of colorful stairs that appear completely identical to the other item slots for the same item. There’s that Generator A again. The game Gun King Battle had thousands of dollars worth of hats sold for hundreds apiece from late December into early January. A game with a peak of 7 users. Pardon my French but où se trouvent les toilettes? And there’s that frickin Generator item again.

Many of these games had their transactions during the same nearly three week period between December 10 and 17 with some outliers, a lot of them have random items listed in their marketplace called Generator A, and they were all banned during the same week period. Does anyone else notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! I could continue going back but I genuinely think they’ll be carting me off in a strapped jacket if I do.

What’s the point in all of this? I don’t know, I lost that plot several paragraphs ago. The important thing is to put two factor authentication on your account and keep it there, especially if you are Chinese because you’re probably a prime target to have your wallet drained into some crappy game that’ll get banned anyway. And if you do get scammed this way, contact Valve’s customer support and they’ll likely get you your money back. But make sure to insult the developer in a way that doesn’t quite translate to English so I can entertain myself and my followers on Twitter.

Also we’re entering a world where developers have apparently moved on to laundering marketplace items, meaning Valve needs to get off their ass and start cracking down on untrustworthy developers having access to the Steam marketplace. But I’m not the boss, so you do what you want.

Don’t eat spicy lasagna after midnight or you’ll have horrible nightmares.

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