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How to play videogames safely during the pandemic

Amanda Salazar | The Ticker

The increase in video game usage among children since March has led to a rise in online hacking and lost money.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and months of lockdowns, gaming has become a common hobby for many around the globe. In the U.S., gaming has increased 45%, surpassing countries like France and the United Kingdom by 38% and 29%, respectively. Likewise, fraudulent activity increased by 31%.

When victims get hacked, they lose personal property and funds such as digital currency and in-game items like avatar weapons and outfits that can be sold in online marketplaces for profit.

Colby Bruno, a 17-year old from Knoxville, Tenn., had more than $1,000 worth of weapons and skins stolen from him by hackers in the game “Brawl Stars” which he played on Steam.

Bruno discovered his account was flagged by the game administrator for breaking a rule. Then, his name and icon were erased from his account.

“At that point, I knew I had been hacked,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

His friends in the game recommended that he transfer all his items to his other account where they would be safe. But after confirming the trade, his entire inventory was gone. The hackers had tricked both him and his friends into transferring all their items.

Occurrences like Bruno’s happen often when players make in-game purchases with their credit cards. Using stolen passwords to breach online accounts is the most common method of cyberattacks, according to Chief Executive Kevin Gosschalk at Arkose Labs, a fraud-and-abuse prevention company for gaming merchants and other retailers.

If a password gets stolen, it can end up on a black-market list for hackers to sell. If users use their password on multiple sites, the chances for all their accounts becoming compromised increases.

After Aarush Dey, an 11-year-old boy who made his first-ever in-game purchase for his birthday had $20 worth of items stolen from him in Brawl Stars, his mother, Sushi Ray, deleted the app and changed her Apple ID and password. She also changed the passwords on her PayPal account, American Express card account and Google account, since all of them were linked to her Apple ID.

“We don’t know what is linked to what anymore,” Ray told the Wall Street Journal.

Companies like Nintendo reported 300,000 accounts hacked worldwide from April to June and more than 500,000 accounts may have been hacked on Activision on Sept. 20.

To ensure online safety for children, parents should enable two-factor authentication when logging into accounts and setting up parental controls. This also allows parents to approve of every in-game purchase made. Users should create a strong password that is not shared with others or used with other accounts.

Lastly, checking the website URL before proceeding to log in can be a good way to ensure a website is safe and secure, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some hackers create websites that mimic an actual website’s design, tricking users into giving away their login information to a dummy website.

“There’s nothing you can do but learn from your mistakes and hope you’re not a victim of the next scheme,” Bruno said.

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