User Uncovers Dodgy Russian Trading Scheme... In Team Fortress 2

Steamrep forum user base64, having noticed a strange spike in transactions for a rare in-game item, decided to do a little private investigating. He uncovered some very strange happenings.

Picking up on a weird increase in trades for "earbuds", a rare item in the game, his investigations led him to discover a closed Steam group that was involved in highly suspicious item trading. The report is a lengthy and surprisingly fascinating read, but for the time-starved, let's cut to his tl;dr hypothesis:

tl;dr A group of Russians bought >5,000 Keys from Store today using illegitimate credit cards and bought few hundred Buds from TF2 Outpost at an ridiculous price of 28-30 Keys (The average yesterday was 25.5 Keys). They have been doing this for quite a long time and their activity today is alarming.

One motive for this could be the hilariously bizarre (if unlikely) possibility that Russian gangsters are using Team Fortress 2 to launder dirty money. Another, more likely outcome is that a band of crims have got hold of some stolen credit cards, and are spending the cash on rare TF2 items they can re-sell.

Today I discovered that there are tons of Keys with doubtful origin injecting into the market [Steamrep, via PC Gamer]


    Dayum, looking forward to see them getting stomped by valve/steams powerful ass-kicking boots

    Every now and then I get some random stranger on steam asking to trade for my earbuds. I can't say I really understand why. I still tell them no though :p

      Yeah, the last couple of times I've played I've had quite a few requests for my ones (I was completely oblivious to their rarity - last I heard was they were a point-and-laugh kind of thing).

      Last year I had Sam and Max items, thought they looked stupid as heck in-game, turns out they're ultra rare so I traded them for Dota 2 (harder to get in a year ago), Dirt 3 and Rock of Ages. Which is pretty nuts, considering I just wanted Sam and Max in the first place :p

    i dont get it, besides reselling what are the point of rare items?

      In TF2, rare items (earbuds, Bill's hat from Left 4 Dead, Max's head from Sam & Max) are used as currency for Unusual hats. Keys are lower currency.

      Basically, there's demand for all of these things. If you're trying to get money quickly from stolen credit cards, then buying keys from Valve's store, using them to buy earbuds and then selling the earbuds for real world cash is clever, if time consuming (and hellishly dishonest, goes without saying).

      Earbuds go for about USD$30 or so, so if they're buying 5000 keys - that's $12,500 of stolen credit. They can turn that into $5000 of real world cash using the methods described, if my maths is correct.

        wtf which goes back to my question
        why on earth would ppl want to pay $30 for these...they add no value...$30 is more than the cost of valve's games

          To then trade them for Unusual hats. They're cosmetic, nothing more. Why? For fun, for a bigger e-peen, because they like how they look...any number of reasons.

    But...hang on....if you can buy them, how are they incredibly rare?

      You can't buy them.
      Earbuds were a limited release for playing TF2 on a mac (during a specific, albeit long, time period). Many other unique/rare items are for pre-ordering another game on Steam (Valve does a lot of this sort of cross-promotion with TF2). Generally after the pre-order periods ends (or shortly after release) it becomes impossible to get these items anymore without trading.

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