A Team Fortress 2 user has discovered what appears to be a trading scheme active in the game's marketplace, believed to be perpetrated by Russian groups purchasing in-game keys with illegitimate credit cards in order to launder money.
According to a very lengthy investigation headed by Steamrep forum user base64, large quantities of in-game keys are being purchased with fraudulent credit cards and traded for earbuds — a rare item in the game. The users then re-sell the earbuds for real-world money at an apparent loss. As the product is a virtual item, banks can simply retract the charge while the item continues to circulate, resulting in supposed market manipulation.
While still speculative, the reasoning behind this strange market activity, as discussed by Steamrep users, varies from money laundering to users using stolen credit cards and are spending the money on digital items that can be re-sold. Other users state this is simply nothing new; However, the investigator maintains over 5,000 keys have been bought from the game's store using these fraudulent cards so far.
In short, base64 writes:
"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."
We have contacted Valve for comment and will update when further information is available.