The popular online game "Fortnite" is a worldwide sensation drawing in tens of millions of users each month. But law enforcement officials say not every player is innocent, warning that child predators and money launderers are utilizing the gaming platform to carry out criminal activity targeting kids.
What are the details?
On Thursday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office announced the arrest of 41-year-old Anthony Gene Thomas, who is accused of using "Fortnite" to groom a teenager, soliciting pornographic photos and videos of the victim, and eventually luring the victim to his house and engaging in sexual activity. According to the press release, "authorities believe there could be as many as 20 additional victims."
"This case is disturbing not only because it involves child pornography, but also because a popular online game was used to communicate with the victim," Moody said in a statement, adding, "Parents need to know that predators will use any means possible to target and exploit a child. I am asking parents and guardians to please make sure you know who your children meet online, and talk to them about sexual predators."
"Fortnite" has both voice and chat options allowing users to interact with anyone else playing the game, which leaves kids vulnerable to being solicited by predators. The Huffington Post reported last year that according to one study, 25 percent of children and young people aged 11-18 have been contacted by a stranger online.
How about the money-laundering thing?
"Fortnite" also has its own currency, called V-bucks, which players can use to buy weapons and other gear in the game. Fox News reported Friday that money launderers are using stolen credit cards to purchase V-bucks, make in-game purchases, and resell the accessories to buyers on the dark web.
According to cyber security news site Dark Reading, young gamers are often the targets of thieves and phishing scams, because minors can be lured (or tricked) into sharing login credentials and other personal data like credit card information.
Benjamin Preminger, a senior intelligence analyst at cybersecurity firm Sixgill, told Fox that "Fortnite" creator Epic Games could be doing more to stop criminal activity on the platform, saying, "Epic Games doesn't seem to clamp down in any serious way on criminal activity surrounding 'Fortnite,' money laundering or otherwise."
Preminger added that "several steps could be taken to mitigate the phenomenon, including monitoring the transfer of high-value goods in the game, identifying players with large stockpiles of V-bucks, and sharing data with relevant law enforcement agencies."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Epic Games made $3 billion in revenue off "Fortnite" in 2018 alone.