A lot of people now play online games. They use their computers, mobile devices or gaming consoles in order to do so. All of these games are played through the medium of the internet and require people to set up accounts. In many cases, the profiles people make are actually assumed identities, which means it is very difficult to find out who someone truly is.

This, in itself, can pose a number of dangers and problems. As an added danger, game developers constantly try to add new dimensions to improve the game-playing experience. First of all, they added chat facilities. Now, people have microphones and headsets and actually speak to the other games. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a first person shooting game, a simple chess game, a huge adventure game or a card game. You can take part in it with thousands of other people and you have the ability to communicate directly with them as well.

A final important danger is found in the fact that people are encouraged to spend real money if they want to enhance their enjoyment of the gaming experience. Often, they are offered upgrades or special features in return for some sort of payment. There are numerous hidden financial risks in doing so, including the chance of sharing your personal financial details or spending far more than you have planned.

The Risks of Online Gaming

Online gaming is generally done through MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online) or MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). This means that thousands of people can sign up to a community in which they meet strangers, who are totally anonymous. Together, they can chat in environments that are generally unmoderated and unfiltered, where any information therefore can be shared. This puts people in various kinds of danger. Hence, it is important to keep a few things in mind:

• Be careful not to accidentally share your personal information, such as your date or birth, age, home address, password or email address.
• Be aware of the dangers of chat rooms.
• Never be tempted to download ‘cheats’ or codes that say they will enhance your gaming experience. There is a big chance that these codes actually contain malware like viruses or spyware. Additionally, cheating is cheating and you should not try to enjoy a game in that manner anyway.
• Be careful not to accidentally download or otherwise obtain games that are actually pirated copies. Doing so can lead to a variety of penalties. At best, your gaming account will be suspended. In addition, it is also possible that you will no longer be able to access your console manufacturer’s server. At worst, you will actually be prosecuted for piracy, which is a serious crime.
• Always be suspicious when you buy in-game, virtual property, particularly if you have to exchange real money for this. There are many criminals who will offer things like high-level characters in return for money, but who will actually give you malware and many other problems.
• You could fall victim to a process known as ‘griefing’. This is a form of cyber bullying. Rather than being targeted at you as a person, it is targeted at ruining your gaming experience. Essentially, a group of people will band together with the sole purpose of making sure you have a bad time.
• If you are getting rid of your game consoles, whether you are throwing them out or selling them, you must always make sure that you have completely deleted your accounts from them. If not, you will essentially be giving someone full access to your details, including your financial details.
• Think twice before you download any apps or web-based games that are claimed to be ‘free’. Very often, you will have to pay for the full content at a later stage. In some cases, there is no full content and you parting with your money is simply a way for hackers to get hold of your financial information.
• Online gaming is very addictive. This is a real danger that you have to be aware of. If you have children who do this, make sure you are monitoring their exposure.

How to Stay Safe While Gaming

There are a few things that you can do in order to play online games safely and effectively. At the end of the day, games are supposed to be fun, and you should be able to have fun as much as possible. If you follow these tips, you should be able to do exactly that:

• Make sure that whatever device you use for online gaming is properly protected with the latest, up to date antivirus and anti-spyware program and that your firewall is running.
• Only play the authorized version of any online game. You should have bought these from an official source and have a license number to be able to play it.
• Make sure that you check the security and authenticity of any file that you download, including software obtained through a reputable source.
• Always pick a username that doesn’t actually reveal who you really are. If you can, or have to, create a personal profile, you have to make sure that you keep the information included in there to a bare minimum. Also make sure that your privacy settings are set in such a way that others cannot view it.
• Always use unique and strong passwords.
• Do not tell other players any information about yourself and your identity.
• Update the game software whenever necessary. Usually, an MMORPG or MMO game will have automatic update settings, which means you can only connect if your version is fully up to date.
• Do not download any program that relates to the game but comes from a different source.
• When you buy or sell ‘property’ within a computer game from or to someone in the real world, you always have to be aware of the fact that you could be falling victim to a scam.
• Properly read the terms and conditions associated with a game, so that you know for a fact you won’t be hit with hidden charges now or in the future.
• When you get rid of your gaming console, make sure that you completely wipe its hard drive. Different devices have different methods of doing this, so you may have to do some research. Be particularly vigilant about removing your account details that link to your financial or personal information.
• If you allow your children to play online, make sure that you have strict rules and guidelines in place and talk to them about the dangers they are exposing themselves to.

Quick Tips to Stay Safe:

• Be vigilant. Protect yourself so you can enjoy the gaming experience in a safe way.
• Keep your private information confidential.
• Never play for too many hours, as this could put you at risk of developing an addiction.

Additional Resources:

Gamers: Avoid the phishing hook
On Guard Online
Online Gaming Dangers
Beware of the Risks of Online Gaming and Fantasy Football
The Time Is Here For Online Gaming
Online Gaming Risks
Playing it Safe: Avoiding Online Gaming Risks
5 warning signs of gaming addiction
Millions of gaming passwords, email addresses released online
Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection responds to misguided online gaming ban that would put consumers at risk
Watch Your Identity: Tips for Reducing the Risk of Identity Theft
In Response to the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection (C4COP) Campaign Launch
Online Gaming – A Gamble or a Sure Bet?