Any time a multiplayer game captures millions of people’s attention, scammers pop up on YouTube looking to rip off players for an easy, cheap way to get ahead.
Fortnite is both a perfect example and the most recent victim. Since Fortnite’s meteoric rise, there have been multiple YouTube videos running as ads that pitch Fortnite players easy ways to get free V-Bucks. (V-Bucks are Fortnite’s premium in-game currency, which lets them purchase limited-edition skins, gear and weapons.) Search “free V-Bucks” in YouTube’s search bar, and more than 4.3 million results will populate.
Of the first top 10 videos that populate, eight are obvious scam videos running on seemingly hacked or stolen accounts. These accounts have a couple of videos promising free V-Bucks, followed by videos from five to 10 years ago. These accounts are often abandoned by the original creator. Some of these are livestreams with thousands of active viewers — and each one promises Fortnite players an easy way to gain free in-game currency.
The ads, like the one below, usually bring players to external pages, where they’re asked to provide their email addresses or download an app.
Many of these are phishing schemes, designed to get access to people’s information. These ads are a major problem — and one that won’t be going away anytime soon.
One of the seeming most rampant offenders is DieAgain340, a user whose channel has just one video: a stream from April 12. The video promises an easy way to get free V-Bucks, which Epic Games tells Polygon is a promise that shouldn’t be trusted. The archive has almost one million views, but is currently unlisted. One person with knowledge of the situation told Polygon that scams are often uploaded as unlisted videos to get around YouTube’s detection system. These videos don’t appear via the search function, but they can still run on other videos as advertisements, with the separate scam video linked through the ad that appears at the bottom of the screen.
The image below is an example of how this works:
And here’s that same video running as an ad on a different YouTube page:
DieAgain340 remains active despite having been reported to YouTube for spam by multiple people on Twitter and Polygon. The only video on that channel is a liked video, another Fortnite scam from different channel with just over 5,000 views.
Twitter and Reddit users have complained to YouTube about the issue, citing the video above. But Polygon confirmed DieAgain340’s particular video, which was flagged by multiple people according to Reddit and Twitter, was approved by a reviewer to remain on the site along with many other similar videos. A source with knowledge of the situation told Polygon that multiple members on the YouTube Trust & Safety team, which includes a group of volunteer Trusted Flaggers, “are in no position to apply any strikes, or take any action on these accounts at all, and this is how it’s going to look like going forward.”
When reached for comment, a YouTube spokesperson refuted that statement as inaccurate, saying the team is constantly training the machine to learn how to detect new types of spam and bad actors.
“We detect and remove millions of spam videos with YouTube machine learning algorithms systems and our teams continue to train these systems to adapt to new types of abuse, allowing us to tackle this content at scale,” a YouTube spokesperson told Polygon. “We use teams of highly trained content reviewers to determine whether videos violate our Community Guidelines.. We are committed to removing spam quickly, in many cases, preventing it from ever being viewed by users, while also making sure that we do not harm legitimate creators.”
While one source said the company is “in no position to verify the veracity of these claims, and it would be very hard to apply and enforce a policy globally if you take into consideration all different locations, admins, it would be unforeseeable,” YouTube’s own policy on spam hasn’t changed. What does seem to have changed, however, is the relationship between members of the Trusted Flaggers program and YouTube.
Trusted Flaggers work with YouTube’s Trust & Safety team to tackle bad actors on the platform. Participants in the Trusted Flaggers programs are not content reviewers, according to YouTube, and they don’t have insider knowledge on how the company’s machine learning systems work. This means they may submit videos as scams, but content reviewers can ultimately disagree amongst themselves. Even if a Trusted Flagger thinks a video is a scam or spam, it’s up to YouTube’s content reviewers and machine learning algorithm to make that determination. If the video is hailed as okay by a content reviewer, the videos can stay up. Even though one source told Polygon that “Fortnite scams are clocking up tens of millions of views every single day,” some of these videos may not be seen as scams by members of YouTube’s review team.
YouTube’s policy regarding spam, deceptive practices and scams still states that content which “deliberately tries to mislead users for financial gain may be removed, and in some cases strikes may be issued to the uploader.” The policy also states that users should “be wary of claims that seem too good to be true, as they likely are.”
If anything, it seems to be a combination of scammers and spammers finding ways to get around the review system; and, as always, there are simply too many videos being uploaded at any given moment (450 hours of content every minute) for the Trust & Safety team to catch every single video.
One source said, however, this is the first time they can remember the process being addressed by leadership.
A meeting was called to talk about changes affecting how scams and spams are handled, according to one source. They were told the new changes affect content like the apparent Fortnite scams, “and any other sort of content relating to fraudulent giveaways, claims of free items or other items on the internet.” The new changes were going to become a new rule, according to the source, adding that the company’s Trust & Safety team is “unable to apply policy action for any future escalations.”
The question is what type of content constitutes spams and scams in the minds of content reviewers, and how does that relate to the thousands of Fortnite videos promising free V-Bucks?
One example comes from a public Trusted Flagger, who goes simply by Ben. Ben called out on Twitter and Reddit one of the most notorious scammers on April 25: Fortnite Legendary, the account behind an ad that frequently runs on YouTube videos. A YouTube representative reached out to Ben via Twitter and said the team was looking into the situation. Fortnite Legendary’s original video was eventually removed for violating YouTube’s terms of service, following Ben’s report.
But as of April 29, Fortnite Legendary’s infamous ad is back in people’s feeds.
Fortnite Legendary’s account was later deleted, but several other inauthentic Fortnite V-Bucks ads remain active on YouTube. Clicking on one video also prompts multiple scam videos in the recommendation feed; some of these are livestreaming, but others are regular videos that have anywhere from 5,000 to hundreds of thousands of views. Several of them are below.
Epic Games’ team is more than aware that these phishing ads based off its biggest game exist.
“There is no way to give or receive V-Bucks other than purchasing in-game or earning them via Battle Pass or quests in ‘Save The World,’” a representative for Epic Games told Polygon. “Many people claim this, but instead will give gift cards or some other compensation (in instances of giveaways that are not scams, of course; players should never, ever share their account information).”