How Fallout 76 console players battle Gray Market scammers

Fallout 76 is the current flagship of the Fallout series, and Bethesda has continued to patch the gaps since its rocky launch, adding new content regularly. But while the developers continue with expansions like a post-apocalyptic Pittsburgh, the game’s communities create their own content and structure. Some players have built private worlds and roleplayed, while others have built complex “courier” networks to sell high-end in-game items without being scammed.

In-game scams are nothing new. Many of us who grew up playing games, such as Runescape can tell the horrific tale of how we were lured into a deal that seemed too good to be true, only to find all our gear and gold gone. Now a profitable fraud economy has emerged Fallout 76, taking advantage of those playing the game on consoles. In response, players have organized to try to stop the scammers and created a vital volunteer service – but it’s also proving to be a drain on time and emotionally.

Fallout 76 - The Responders, a helpful in-game faction, represented by a soldier in power armor next to a sign that reads

Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

One of the main goals of Fallout 76 is to get high-quality legendary gear equipped with special modifiers. A vampiric blade, for example, restores health on each hit, while a weapon can deal more damage to enemies with full health or heal party members each time the weapon scores a critical hit. These weapons will drop randomly from legendary enemies like the fearsome Scorchbeast Queen, and while there are other ways to purchase them, there’s no way to predict what will be available. They are always at the mercy of random generation. This creates a loop – play the game, sell the legendarys you can’t use for caps, and use those caps for the comfort of the in-game creatures while you scavenge for more legendarys.

“No one wants caps; [they] want other items in return. Players want an armor set or five or six weapons in return,” said Nick Rizzo, one of the most committed Fallout 76 Couriers running Scam List 76, a community-maintained list of scammers intended to oust bad actors from the market.

While players can sell unwanted goods for caps by setting up vending machines in their CAMP, there is no in-game option for players to trade each other for items. But players don’t care about caps; They prefer to swap for other legendary gear with excellent modifiers. As such, they have used social media groups on Facebook or Discord to find trading partners, or even gone to eBay, Gameflip or similar digital marketplaces to participate in some sort of gray market.

Fallout 76 - A player talks to two women outside of Vault 76

Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Players can opt for a flat trade, where they and another player swap items. This requires an incredible show of trust – one player must be willing to provide their items first, and the other will drop theirs in response. Alternatively, if a player owns a rarer piece of gear, they can offer it for real money on a virtual marketplace such as eBay. A scammer may list an item, pocket the money, but never deliver the equipment promised.

“Currently, there is no way for us to just trade items back and forth. In game the only way to do that is to either hire a courier or a third party or take the risk bringing your stuff first for 0, they take it and just hope they’ll go with the deal,” he told Rizzo .

As a result, Fallout 76 Communities have appointed verified couriers to coordinate trades between players via Facebook or Discord messages, or transport items between players to bypass systems implemented by Bethesda. These verified sellers gather in groups on Facebook and work together to build a secure sales network with trusted middlemen.

Colorful powered armor sets in Fallout 76. A player wields a rocket hammer weapon.

Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

These dedicated players also maintain cheat lists to keep bad actors out of the community as their presence poses an existential threat to building a sustainable fan base. “[A friend] was cheated out of $80; He put his side of the trade down for 0 first and it got stolen and that was it,” Rizzo said. “He left the game. He refuses to play it. Because what’s the point? And things have gotten much worse here in the last few months.”

Scam List 76 is a community initiative that started in 2018 after the game’s launch. Rizzo and other community leaders like Nick Jochim stick with this, with a specific focus on malicious sellers trying to get into areas like brands Fallout 76 console communities.

Despite such lists, scammers can circumvent them by creating alternative accounts or even posing as couriers themselves. “A scammer created a profile with the same name as a courier and replaced a small L in his name with a capital I,” Jochim said in a call to Polygon. “It’s incredible what people will try.”

According to Rizzo and Jochim, scammers are constantly creating alternatives. The two sides are in an arms race, with one side trying to maintain a comprehensive list of unsafe players and making it easier for people to buy their items in a curated community, while the other side is trying to break those protocols and pull off their scams that are real money.

A Securitron occupying a shop in Fallout 76

Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

The demands of a live service game that constantly introduces new objectives and gear for players has led to a number of scams of late. There was a period of relative peace during the summer of 2020 and 2021 when gamers on consoles discovered a cheating bug that allowed them to mass-produce the game’s most valuable items. (PC gamers, who can easily duplicate items, haven’t been hit by scammers in the same way.) The laws of supply and demand carry over to Fallout 76and when there is mass supply, there is no demand.

However, the addition of legendary crafting and new, more powerful weapons alongside updates like Wastelanders and Steel Reign has meant that gear has gone down in value, and the new hot weapons can sell for tens or even hundreds of dollars.

“Now that’s an incentive for a lot of these guys to get back in the game, cheat, and go back to what they’re doing,” Rizzo said. “And the only way to really fix that is to put a real trading and transfer system into the game. Bethesda, at least from my perspective, doesn’t look like they’re putting much more time or effort into the game because it’s not growing the way they hoped it would.”

The couriers of Fallout 76 I’m currently feeling down. Polygon reviewed multiple instances of communication via messages with Bethesda support staff, including emails with the game’s support lead. Despite the Couriers’ regular attempts to get a solid response from Bethesda’s support lines and staff, they haven’t seen much of a change. Polygon contacted Bethesda for comment; it has not responded at the time of publication.

“When we started [the group], we figured we’d do that for maybe six months just to fill the gap until Bethesda comes out with a proper trading system,” said Jochim. “We would never have dreamed of that almost four years later, we’re still dealing with it.” How Fallout 76 console players battle Gray Market scammers

Charles Jones

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