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Valve can't stop Steam account theft and customers are suffering because of it

The marketplace is plagued by a "highly effective, organized network" of thieves.

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Valve says that every month more than 77,000 Steam accounts are hijacked. The problem is so bad, and growing so fast, that they've simply given up trying to stop it and have instead put measures in place to make it difficult for thieves to profit from their organized criminal network.

The developer and publisher, which is as well known for its secrecy as it is for being a pioneer of open digital markets, included that shocking number in a statement issued yesterday on the news page of their official Steam storefront. The post focuses around the insular but growing world of Steam trading, already the world's largest storefront for digital hats but also in-game weapons and skins. Items like rare CS:GO knives regularly trade for hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

To slow the rate of theft, Steam recently introduced a system called a "trade hold" where items are essentially held in escrow for a finite period of time before a transaction is finalized. The process is necessary, Steam says, because account theft is so pervasive on their platform.

"Account theft has been around since Steam began," the post explains, "but with the introduction of Steam Trading, the problem has increased twenty-fold as the number one complaint from our users. Having your account stolen, and your items traded away, is a terrible experience, and we hated that it was becoming more common for our customers.

"Once an account was compromised, the items would be quickly cleaned out. They'd then be traded again and again, eventually being sold to an innocent user. Looking at their account activity, it wasn't too hard to figure out what happened."

Valve referred to the individuals engaged in digital theft as a "highly effective, organized network" of thieves who use various third-party platforms as well as other compromised accounts to launder items, and money, through the system.

"We can help users who've been hacked by restoring their accounts and items, but that doesn't deter the business of hacking accounts. It's only getting worse."

The post goes on to stress that Steam users should use two-factor authentication, made possible by the Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator. Only individuals who have engaged the heightened security feature will be able to bypass the trade hold when moving items to or from their account.

Earlier this year Polygon did a deep dive into the world of gray market game resellers, and Valve seems to strongly suggest that the anonymity similar sites provide may serve as a way to hide stolen digital goods.

Alienware Steam machine

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