It's no secret that Call of Duty depicts high levels of violence. Players shoot at, drop bombs on and otherwise do harm to each other in countless ways. That violence is usually confined to the game, but it's been reported this week that the FBI has alleged that a hacking ring used the threat of real-world harm to force two Call of Duty players into helping them steal at least $3.3 million (€2.6 million) worth of various forms of cryptocurrency by compromising about 100 people's smartphones.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the unwilling hackers were told they would be subject to a "SWATing" if they didn't comply with the hacking ring's orders. SWATing refers to sending a Special Weapons and Tactics team to someone's home. As the name implies, these units often bear more powerful weaponry than ordinary police squads and are typically called in when law enforcement believes a suspect is dangerous.
SWATing has become increasingly popular over the years. It's an unfortunately easy process: one simply has to learn someone's location, typically using the victim's IP address, then call in a threat serious enough for a SWAT team to get involved. The ramifications can be severe--multiple people in the U.S. and elsewhere have been killed by police after they were SWATed by someone over something that happened in a game.
Even if a SWATing doesn't result in someone's death, it can also lead to serious harm, or, at the very least, a terrifying experience. So it's not farfetched to believe two people would go along with a cryptocurrency theft scheme if they were threatened with a SWATing. Both suspects are also said to have cooperated with the FBI and Augur, one of the cryptocurrency companies affected by the thefts, to help make up for their actions.
Call of Duty and other multiplayer games can make it easy to find people to bully into these schemes. Most feature some kind of in-game messaging system, and many can accidentally reveal someone's IP address.
Other details about the recent plot, including how the Call of Duty players hacked into their victims' smartphones, haven't been revealed. Currently, it seems like the FBI doesn't even know the full extent of the scheme--the Sun-Times reported that "at least $3.3 million in various cryptocurrency, including about $805,000 in Reputation Tokens," as well as untold amounts of Ether and Bitcoin, were stolen.
This serves as a stark reminder of how quickly games about fantasy violence can become sources of real-world problems. Most people will never have to worry about this, no matter how many times an enraged player releases strings of epithets and violence that would make a sailor blush. But the people who are affected by SWATing and other acts of violence enabled by their playing a game are in very real danger.