There are plenty of games that essentially turn into an unpaid job, or worse, a job that you pay for. World of Warcraft and EVE Online players can relate. But a new crop of “play-to-earn” games, in which the player can reportedly earn real money (or cryptocurrency that might count as real money) are tempting players desperate to make their leisure time profitable. And, according to the FBI, they’re also being targeted by—who else?—crypto scammers.
A short post to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, spotted by Bleeping Computer, lays out the details. Players are lured to a game where they can allegedly earn cryptocurrency rewards simply by playing and directed to connect a crypto wallet to the game. But it actually works in reverse: The more cryptocurrency the player places in the wallet, the more the game shows the player their “rewards,” without actually adding any value (such as it is) to the wallet.
Once the player stops depositing cryptocurrency to the wallet, the trap is sprung. The scammer uses the player’s wallet credentials, which were input to the game as part of its “reward” mechanics, to drain the wallet. The money’s gone and the game might disappear, too. The player is left with nothing but lost money and time.
Gamers have been targeted by scammers for a long time, but typically the runaround is either stealing in-game assets (annoying, but essentially harmless) or trying to get you to pay real money for fake game currency like Fortnite’s V-Bucks. These fake play-to-earn games are a new vector, using the anonymous nature of cryptocurrency and the allure of earning money while you play video games to sucker people. Remember, cryptocurrency itself might be the closest thing to fake that you can still report on your taxes, but people put in and take out real money in order to participate.
The FBI recommends setting up a separate, isolated cryptocurrency wallet if you want to play pay-to-earn games, so as to isolate your main stash of crypto from what you’re willing to risk. I have a better idea. Just stay away from any game that purports to let you earn cryptocurrency by playing. The rewards are worth less than a minimum wage job for the time expended and the games are generally crap to boot. And that’s assuming that you’re playing a real one.