With over 200 million users in over 50 countries, Fortnite is taking the world by storm. Sixty percent of users are aged 18-24 and are harmlessly using the platform as entertainment. Yet, like any other digital channel, there are bad actors taking advantage of this online world.
Most BSA/AML professionals have been around video gaming for some time, either as gamers themselves or through their children and/or grandchildren. Similarly, money laundering has been a part of the video gaming industry for years, making its peak during the hay day of World of Warcraft. A 2013 report for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that online games were becoming a haven for criminals to launder money by opening many different accounts in numerous online games to move and hide illicit funds. Historically, a common methodology used by criminals was to send gaming currency to their counterparts in other countries, who would in turn cash out the funds for laundered fiat currency.
Fortnite, arguably the most popular game of the decade, is following the path of WoW and unfortunately being used for money laundering by all sorts of bad actors, including international criminal organizations. Although the official age to play the game is 12, it is widely known that younger children routinely participate and are more easily lured into schemes without being aware.
While the game itself is free, participants are encouraged to purchase Fortnite’s currency, V-Bucks, to buy outfits, cosmetics, weapons, and other items. An investigation by The Independent and the cybersecurity firm Sixgill uncovered that stolen credit cards (many of which are purchased on the dark web) are used to buy V-Bucks through the official Fortnite store, then resold at a discount to unsuspecting players. The illicit funds from the stolen credit cards come out “clean” and integrated back into the financial system. With most Fortnite players being under 18, these children are now unknowingly laundering money for criminal organizations.
The Independent/Sixgill investigation found that mentions of Fortnite on the dark web have risen directly with the game’s monthly revenue. Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, profited $3 billion in 2018; that’s a lot of money for a “free” gaming system.