World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Opens the Door for Online Scammers

A Level 50 elf battles through a rich forest, when he is attacked by a mighty Toren beast. Using fire and ice magic attacks, he conquers the monster. He revels in his victory and feels unstoppable. Now, a new threat approaches. Actually, it’s a fellow player, an evil orc, who is an ally for the time being. He invites the elf into a private chat where they discuss the World of Warcraft online trade business. The elf is guided to a third party WOW bazaar where he purchases a new wardrobe for his character. He buys armor, costumes, swords, and even experience to help him along the journey. However, these products are never delivered and he is left itemless, defeated and shamed.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is the most recent expansion pack for the highly coveted RPG franchise. It reigns as the leading massively multiplayer online role playing game, and its following continues to grow exponentially with each addition. With this rising success, however, comes the increasing internet fraudulent activity that plagues gamers and non-gamers alike.

Jeremy Gin is the founder of an anti-fraud website called SiteJabber. It is a consumer-based site that exposes fraudulent websites and online businesses. It also provides in-depth reviews on safe websites people will enjoy. He founded the website in 2008 with cousin Rodney Gin and graduate-school friend Michael Lai.

According to Gin, online game fraud has been around since the 1990s. However, there has been an increase since the development and success of massively multiplayer online role playing games.

Gin also said, “When eBay banned the sale of virtual goods in 2007, this created an economic opportunity for other websites to sell virtual goods from World of Warcraft and other similar games.”

Third-party companies create World of Warcraft accounts to spam other players. They create in game characters to communicate other players. Gin said players’ WOW experiences are “often affected by the presence of scammers in the game. Very often characters in the game will approach players and advertise their website to them directly, trying to get them to buy gold online.” Weapons, armor, quest items and gold are the most common items the online companies sell. “They even use the in-game email system to spam players with their website,” often claiming to have stellar deals on the best products. Once they lure victims to their website, they either sell them faulty products or refuse to deliver them.

SiteJabber has reported that companies such as HelpWow, IGNMax and Power Level are known for deceiving their customers. They offer to instantly level up the WOW player’s character for a fee. This requires accessing the player’s account to get to the character. Account information may be leaked this way. Moreover, the websites sometimes fail to deliver in-game items, particularly gold, despite customer complaints. Power Level has upped its customer service since the alleged WOW scams. However, some customers still report failure to receive in-game products.

Gin said: “The reviews of these sites on SiteJabber seem to indicate that some people may have received the gold they ordered while others clearly do not. These sites say the gold is ‘in process’ of being delivered and the users often get frustrated waiting for gold that may or may not ever be received. As these companies are often based outside the US, it’s hard to know whether they are just businesses with a vast number of customer complaints or if they are truly malevolent. In either situation, if a player chooses to buy gold (which we do not endorse), or use any unfamiliar website,  they should research the experiences of other consumers beforehand.”

Gin said the economic crisis has contributed to this increased fraud in the Warcraft realm. However, he also explained the more universal effects on the internet. Internet fraud affects all online customers. “The economic slowdown has caused the incidence of certain types of scams to rise,” he said. “For example, we saw a spike in the number of work-at-home scams as people were laid off their jobs. Similarly, reports of pernicious online payday loans spiked as well. The FBI has reported a near doubling of online fraud complains over the last couple years.” Not only does SiteJabber see “work-at-home” scams, but they also see identity theft, crooked online lenders, and scams targeting kids and the elderly.

With all the cyber hackers lurking around, the Internet is a dangerous place, especially in the digital arena. Gin offers the following advice to avoid internet scams:

. Ask yourself, “Does this deal seem too good to be true?” If the answer is “yes” then it’s probably best to walk away.

· Always use a major credit card that will protect you in case the website you’re dealing with decides not to deliver, delivers a faulty product, or you otherwise need to get your money back. Debit cards, Western Union, and other forms of payment generally do not offer the same protections.

· Never give out personal information unless you’re certain of whom you’re dealing with. Never give out more personal information than is absolutely necessary.

· If you must give out sensitive personal information such as your social security number or credit card number, make sure the page is encrypted with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) technology which is usually indicated by a small padlock appearing in your browser and the letters “https” appearing before the website address. However, this only indicates the page you’re submitting the information on is secure from hackers and others who may try to intercept your information. It does not ensure that the website receiving your information is trustworthy.

· Be wary of accreditation badges. Just because a site has badges, it does not mean the site can be trusted. Also, be wary of fake badges – real badges (VeriSign, Better Business Bureau, Truste, etc.) typically link to a unique page that provides more information about the accreditation. If the badge does not provide a link, it often means the badge is fake and the site should not be trusted.

· Read the website carefully – the terms of service, return policy, shipping policy, and product or service descriptions. Sometimes hidden charges and other red flags can be uncovered by doing this.

· Research any new business or website before using it. Checking SiteJabber (http://www.SiteJabber.com) reviews is a good way to do this, you can also check with your state’s attorneys general office to see if there are any related scam alerts posted.

You might ask…“What if it is too late? What if I have already been scammed.” Well, Gin would agree the damage is not irreparable, but it does require assertiveness on the part of the victim. He lists the steps required to solve the problem:

1) Contact your financial institution: banks and credit card companies sometimes can help recover lost funds and prevent further financial damage.

2) Attempt to contact the website you believe is culpable. It’s rare, but occasionally consumers have been able to recover lost funds this way.

3) Report the incident: the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FBI, and your state’s attorney general all take complaints. They will however not be able to help you recover losses in most cases.

4) Report the incident on SiteJabber. This will help other consumers to avoid repeating your experience. Also, in some cases, previously unresponsive website owners will actually become more responsive, once consumers have publicly reviewed their site.

WOW Players need to play it safe to ensure their information stays safe. They should keep Gin’s advice in mind and be wary of who they trust with their purchases. The new Cataclysm expansion pack will increase the demand for virtual goods. Gin said: “As virtual worlds becoming increasing popular, I think it’s safe to assume the level of fraudulent activity associated with them is going to increase dramatically…more opportunistic scammers will appear. ”