What my seven-year-old taught me about scams.
Adopt Me! is a massive multiplayer online game on the gaming platform Roblox. Aimed at preteens, the colourful game allows players to wander through a cartoony village adopting pets (and other players) while earning money to buy houses, outfits, and toys.
My daughter is obsessed. She began by seeking out easy-to-find animals like dogs, cats, and rabbits. Now, she's after the 'legendary' pets that rarely show up. She'd sell her little sister for a Golden Unicorn, Frost Dragon, or Ninja Monkey.
A few months ago, she told me that her best friend, Elsie, had lost all beloved Diamond Unicorn, to scammers.
Apparently, scammers convinced Elsie to take part in a 'trust trade' in which one player gives their favourite pet to another as a demonstration of friendship.
"If you're really my friend, you'd trust trade your golden monkey."
Elsie was guilted into handing over the pet and the scammer promptly left the game.
It's like a trust fall where the other person—instead of catching you—steals your wallet why your back is turned.
With legendary animals fetching up to $100USD on the black market, the game was infested with con artists.
Swindlers will trick kids by claiming to be famous YouTubers, pretending the trade will unlock secret content, and creating sob stories about real-life tragedies.
This presented the developers with a problem: How do you identify scammers on an anonymous platform? And, when you do, how do you stop them coming back?
The short answer? They couldn't.
Instead, the developers turned their focus to identifying potential victims.
In order to trade rare pets in the game, players must now apply for a trading license. Once they've proven they understand how scammers work and the techniques they use, they're allowed to take part.
This technique works because, unlike crimes like theft or assault, most scams require the victim to play an active role in their own victimhood. The victim usually gives away the valuables or the means by which the scammer can steal them.
I still supervise my daughter's gameplay but, even if I didn't, I know that she's now an educated player unlikely to be taken for a ride.
Imagine if this type of system was introduced to other platforms.
Banks could add a step to transfers where customers need to answer a YES/NO question to continue.
Does ING call or email customers requesting personal information?
Does a scammer need your physical credit card to access your funds?
Do the police ask bank customers to transfer funds?
Over time, customers would be educated and banks would have a record of which customers are more likely to be victims.
But none of that is going to get Elsie's Diamond Unicorn back.
Vale Sparkles. We hardly knew ye.