Investigation of TF2 Earbud trading may have uncovered major organized fraud

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A user on the SteamRep forums who goes by base64 has potentially uncovered evidence of organized Team Fortress 2 market fraud (opens in new tab) . On Sunday morning, the community investigator noticed an unusual jump in the price (in TF2's common currency of Keys) and volume of Earbud trades. Earbuds, if you're not familiar, are an especially valuable TF2 item. Further investigation revealed that the Keys used to purchase the Earbuds at an above-average price had consecutive or regularly alternating (odd or even) original ID numbers, which indicates they were likely purchased in bulk directly from the Mann Co. Store.

That brought up questions, like, say, why would someone purchase thousands of Keys for $2.49 each, trade 28 to 30 of them at a time for Earbuds, and then sell those Earbuds for 700 Russian rubles (opens in new tab) , for a loss of about $47 each? Base64's thorough investigation can only lead to educated speculation, but it's all very suspicious.

The big drama version of the story is that Russian mobsters are using Team Fortress 2 to launder money. Since this isn't a Neal Stephenson novel, the more likely story is that someone's sitting on a few stolen credit card numbers. Some SteamRep posters say base64's research reveals "nothing new," suggesting that this activity is commonplace. Whatever the case, credit to base64 for uncovering so much via Valve's API and interviews with Earbud sellers involved—if nothing else, it's a fascinating study of digital forensics. Check out the post (opens in new tab) for the full investigation.

(Via PCGamesN (opens in new tab) )

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley alongside Apple and Microsoft, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early personal computers his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. After work, he practices boxing and adds to his 1,200 hours in Rocket League.