Thieves Impersonate YouTubers to Steal on Steam

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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but impersonation might be taking it a little far. Still, you know you’ve made it when someone is willing to swipe your identity in order to get free swag. So, in a way, you could say that it’s good news that people are actively impersonating YouTubers in order to get free access to new games. It’s a phenomenon first brought to light by game developer Leszek Lisowski in a community post on the gaming website Gamasutra.

Lisowski is the head of Wastelands Interactive, an indie game developer currently in the midst of launching their latest project, “Worlds of Magic” on Steam. As part of the release Lisowski’s marketing team sent out a press release hoping to attract journalists, game critics, and YouTubers who could provide valuable coverage prior to the launch. Over the following weeks he reports receiving emails from a number of purported YouTubers, some with followings as low as 300 and others with over a 1 million subscribers, all requesting free or discounted Steam Keys in order to review “Worlds of Magic.” Lisowski obliged, providing these supposed YouTubers with free Steam keys for the game.

The Wastelands soon began receiving reports of early access game keys being sold online for as little as half price. After obtaining one of the mystery keys Lisowski discovered that it was one he had issued to a YouTuber. The individuals who requested the keys had impersonated popular YouTube creators using fraudulent email addresses that only subtly differed from the creators’ channel name. As Lisowski explains “… it turned out, roughly 70% of the keys we had given out were taken under false pretenses, or to use a more direct term, stolen.” A subsequent amateur investigation by Lisowski revealed that the problem is widespread. He himself was able to gain free access to 15 different games simply by posing as a YouTube creator.

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We reached out to Lisowski for a comment hoping to obtain information about how the fraudsters were able to trick him and his fellow developers and which YouTubers were being impersonated in the scheme. As of press time he has yet to respond.

YouTubers form a new but increasingly important corner of video game journalism. YouTube’s game reviews and Let’s Plays let fans see and experience upcoming games in a way that a conventional blog review can’t always offer. Many YouTube gamers wield audiences numbering in the millions which could potentially make or break an indie game launch. While the gaming industry is gradually coming to understand how influential YouTubers can be, Lisowski’s story shows that they still have a way to go in understanding the YouTube ecosystem. Lack of familiarity is being used to exploit game developers, but this incident will hopefully serve as an industry wide wake up call.

 

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