A group that sells cheats for the massively popular online game Call of Duty: Warzone is selling accounts that are already connected to phone numbers and verified, bypassing a security feature implemented by the game's creators and making it easier for cheaters to quickly move to another account after they are banned.
The development highlights the ever-evolving cat-and-mouse game between game studios and those who develop and sell cheats in a multi-million dollar underground industry.
"They are not created one by one," a cheat seller who is advertising the verified accounts on their Discord server told Motherboard in an online chat. "Everything is automated from A to Z."
Do you know anything else about the use or sale of verified or aged Warzone accounts? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on firstname.lastname@example.org, or email email@example.com.
Cheaters will often use tools such as so-called aimbots which automatically target players to give themselves a competitive advantage. Warzone doesn't allow this sort of behaviour though, and tries to ban players who cheat. In April, Activision said it had banned over 70,000 players.
Cheaters who are banned often continue playing and cheating by creating new accounts, a behavior that is more common in free-to-play games like Warzone, where they can keep creating accounts for free. In May, Infinity Ward and Activision, the studio and publisher behind Warzone, rolled out a feature which meant users of the free game had to use a phone number to create an account. This had the effect of making it more cumbersome for cheaters to sign up to the game.
“So, i've been banned on modern warfare multiple times and I've been making multiple accounts to the point where it now requires me for each account i make, to add a phone number and verify it and obviously online disposable numbers aren't helping out, and detaching my actual number and attaching it to multiple accounts doesn't work either. Anyway to bypass this?,” one user of an established cheating forum wrote shortly after the change.
Lots of people don't have a large number of phone numbers to hand to create a mass of accounts, and some online services block signups from certain types of numbers, such as those related to voice-calling apps.
In response to cheaters' difficulty, people in the cheating Discord server are now selling accounts that they have already pushed through the steps of verifying with a phone number.
One vendor is selling such accounts for $1.89 and at the time of writing has just over two dozen in stock, according to their Shoppy page.
"SMS VERIFIED. WITH FULL ACCESS GUIDE AND SUPPORT. NON REFUNDABLE," the Shoppy listing adds.
At least one alleged reviewer in the Discord server appears happy with their purchase.
"Full hwid ban in MW [Modern Warfare]," the reviewer writes, referring to a type of ban that game companies issue on a hardware level. "Purchased spoofer and new SMS account and I'm back playing again with no issues."
The cheat seller declined to elaborate further on how they are getting the SMS verified accounts.
"If i tell you how i do it, it may make my method vulnerable which would make me vulnerable which is not OK," they said.
The person is only selling so-called "aged" accounts, which are accounts which already have hours of playtime clocked in, potentially making them look less suspicious to anti-cheat systems than freshly created accounts. These cost $14.99 each, according to the Shoppy page.
An Activision spokesperson told Motherboard in an email, "We take all forms of cheating very seriously, maintaining a level and fair playing field for everyone is among our highest priorities. This is an area we have been working on heavily, but it isn’t always something we discuss publicly.”