Risk = ISK: Finding EVE Online's most sophisticated scam

Tyler Wilde at

I decided to put on my detective mustache for this story.

Billions of ISK, EVE Online's in-game currency, pass through the sandbox MMO's infamous Jita star system every day. Much is spent on legitimate free market trades, but the heart of EVE's simulated economy is clogged with a sticky plaque: career scammers who spend hours spamming local chat with impossibly enticing offers. I'm quitting the game and want to give away all my ISK!

Sure, and I'm an Amarrian prince who needs help making a space transfer to fund Half-Life 3.

I've always wondered how anyone could fall for these obvious tricks—someone must, because I saw them stacking up in the chat window when I last visited Jita over a year ago, and no one could be that persistent without results. To find out, I flew to Jita like a Las Vegas-bound fool, prepared to be duped out of my life savings—a modest 500 million ISK—in search of EVE's greatest scam.

The contract scam

 
I arrived in a 100,000 ton battleship and pulled up to the Caldari Navy Assembly Plant, the star system's core trading station. Massive whales of freighters drifted outside the cavernous docking bay, while smaller, toothier ships dueled around them. With a 0.9 security status, combat (almost) only occurs here when it’s mutually agreed upon. Artillery and torpedoes don't get you far in Jita, unless you're selling. And if you're buying, make sure you get what you paid for.

The most common scams are falsely advertised sales contracts. The scammer claims in local chat that they want to sell, say, one PLEX—that’s 30 days of game time—for 1.5 million, but the actual contract charges 1.5 billion. Even bolder scams not only tweak the price, but attempt to trick careless buyers into giving away two PLEX for one, or buying the wrong item. A Gnosis is ship worth about 75 million ISK on the market. A gneiss is a rock.

These low-effort, inelegant scams are easy to avoid. It’s a good idea in life and EVE to read contracts carefully before signing them. The same goes for "give me all your stuff and I'll let you join GoonWaffe!" That's not how you join the Goon's corporation.

There’s another type of Jita scam, however, that's much more fun. It's a game of trust and lies, where both scammer and victim try to come out ahead. I'm a gambler, and while the plan was to lose money intentionally, I started to wonder if I might turn a profit. Initially, I did.

The "double or nothing"

 
The game is called ISK doubling, and the proposal is simple and ridiculous. Send me ISK and I’ll send you double back. Just trust me. It's absurd to think this would ever be true, and yet I made 110 million ISK in my first attempt to be scammed. The pitch came from Safar Iyou:

Take your isk to a real doubling business! The only legitimate doubling service in EVE. Details in bio. I follow the rules as long as you do. Stop going to scammers, and start bringing your isk here, to the only real doubler not on the listConvo me!

Safar Iyou, a trustworthy guy.

I sent the minimum amount, 10 million ISK, to test him. Seconds later, he deposited 20 million ISK in my account. This is how you play the game. The first, timid investment is always returned to foster trust. Now that we're buddies, I'll send 100 million, and he'll block me and log off. I was shocked when he returned 200 million, just as promised.

Follow the rules

 
I asked Iyou how he can possibly make money by sending money. He explained that there's a set of rules in his bio. Follow them, and you get your money. Break any of the rules, and he keeps it.

"A surprising amount of people fail [to] follow the rules and i make a big enough profit off of them to pay for the smart players," wrote Iyou. I asked him to clarify the rules, simple requirements for deposit amounts and character age, and he did. "Its not against the rules to confirm the rules lol."

"Tell your friends, for referals, if they mention your name and fail to follow the rules you get 10 percent," he wrote. How nice—if I give my friends a bad tip I can earn even more. Never trust anyone in Jita.

I left the chat, figuring this was a fluke, or that I was bait, someone who would publicize his generosity to attract more "customers" or decide to profit off his referral system. Sure enough, a few minutes later I see a sad message in local chat: "Safar Iyou took all my money!"

The player told me he followed the rules, but as of the last time he was in touch (about a week after the incident), Iyou was still missing.

EVE's greatest scam

 
After that, I kept trying—I made about 50 million more before someone finally yanked the hook and took me for 100 million. Dalamarr Shimaya congratulated me for being his first successful scam, then, feeling guilty, returned a small portion. Even in games, it's hard to escape your conscience. A few days later, I was still his only successful scam.

Reedy Cassidy > Still at it, eh? Any luck?
dalamarr Shimaya > nah :/
dalamarr Shimaya > im getting convos from people saying random stuff then leaving
Reedy Cassidy > That's weird.
dalamarr Shimaya > its what i deserve i guess

Shimaya should take notes from the final scam I encountered. It's diabolical. Not only does this scam effectively convince players to hand over hundreds of millions of ISK at a time, every bite is recorded in a public record. And yet it keeps working, over and over.

It starts like the others. Olivia Skylee, Lou Xlejitt, Borderline Nutz, and other aliases are advertising ISK doubling with variations on the following message:

I Want to SHARE The Wealth

I cannot make all of EVE wealthy
To receive your ISK you must PLAY my game

Risk = ISK ( I put the ISK in RISK! )

Below that, a payout chart claims those who risk 100 million ISK will receive 700 million, 200 million will receive 2.2 billion, and 500 million will receive a ridiculous 7 billion. The payouts are unbelievable, so to convince those who are about to be scammed, proof is offered.

Proof Of Honesty:
My Wallet Journal API: http://bit.ly/Borderline_Nutz
(test it yourself, send me 1 ISK, wait for cache to refresh)

Using an API, it's possible for third-party websites to track EVE player information, including transactions, which is this scammer's proof of legitimacy. Let's take a look at Borderline Nutz' wallet.

It looks like Nutz is keeping his promise, and if you think it's all faked, go ahead and transfer 1 ISK to his account—it will show up on the API page, proving that it's real data. And it is, just not entirely real.

All of the incoming transactions are real, but the payouts are spoofed. This has been going on for at least a few months, possibly longer, with over a billion ISK in profits on a good day. My favorite part: Nutz asks players to place a small bounty on him "as a 'thank you' gesture." So far, he's got over 500M ISK in thank yous on his head.

It may not be the most complex scam in EVE—there are many nuanced methods of extracting money from players—but its success and use of out-of-game deceit makes it one of the most sophisticated and impressive.

You probably shouldn't trust anyone named "Borderline Nutz" in the first place.

I knew it was a con when I first saw it, but I couldn't help but think about all the ships I could buy with 2.2 billion ISK. I could transfer it to my corporation's wallet, start recruiting and expanding into low-sec space. I sent the 200 million, certain that it was the story I was after, but part of me hoped for the one-in-a-billion chance that this would be another Safar Iyou. Of course, my riches never came. I tried to contact Nutz, but I was unable to get in touch. Of course.

And that's how the ISK doubling game works. Just like in Vegas, we'll risk a lot—sometimes everything we have—when teased with the prospect of sudden wealth. But just like in Vegas, the house always wins in the end.

That is, unless you bring your ISK to a 100 percent legit ISK doubling service. Contact Reedy Cassidy to find out more about this one-of-a-kind offer.

Update: After this article was published, Safar Iyou got in touch again. "Lol, thanks for featuring me in your article," he wrote. "I remember talking to you too lol, explaining the rules etc etc. I really was just milking you trying to land the big deposit lol." He then revealed much more about the EVE scamming scene, which I'll continue to investigate. lol.


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