Busted cryptocurrency mining operation was actually farming FIFA 21 money - report

The vast electricity-stealing computer farm shut down by Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) last week wasn't mining cryptocurrency as first reported.

Instead, the set-up was farming in-game currency for Electronic Arts' (EA) FIFA 21 football game, according to a new report.

The SBU had said they had found 5000 computers on site, stealing NZ$370,000 worth of electricity each month.

But the 3800 PlayStation 4 consoles seized puzzled some observers as they aren't best designed for crypto mining. One of the photos supplied by the SBU also seemed to show ejected game discs from a bank of the machines.

The consoles showing ejected game discs are on the left-hand side of the picture.
The consoles showing ejected game discs are on the left-hand side of the picture. Photo credit: Security Service of Ukraine

Ukrainian news website Delo is now saying the PCs were running bots on the PlayStation 4's to play FIFA and earn it's in-game currency. Accounts containing large amounts of digital coins can then be sold on the black market.

In FIFA 21's Ultimate Team (FUT) players create their own teams with line-ups made up of players from digital trading packs. The packs are awarded for in-game achievements or can be purchased with both in-game currency and real money.

There's also a thriving auction system where you can bid the digital cash for the rarest of players, including the greatest football stars of all time.

Earlier this year EA reported US$1.6 billion revenue from the Ultimate Team modes across its range of games, with the majority coming from FIFA.

And it's that value that has attracted scammers and farmers.

Back in 2016 Californian Anthony Clark was convicted of wire fraud after using software to illegally obtain in-game currency and then selling it for real money.

He fraudulently logged thousands of FIFA matches within a matter of seconds and made US$16 million from selling the awarded digital coins. 

And even EA employees have been accused of profiting, with screenshots showing one apparently selling coveted items over social media, according to Eurogamer.

Malwarebytes, a company offering cybersecurity software, has told gamers to be aware of potential scams surrounding the in-game currency.

"FIFA games are enormously popular, and the target of many types of scam as a result," spokesperson Chris Boyd told The Express.

"With the launch of FIFA 21, gamers need to have their wits about them. For example, coins, used as in-game currency, are often the focus of "cheap currency purchase" sites which go hand-in-hand with phishing – a scam where targets are targeted by email, telephone or text message."

Belgium banned the use of FUT game packs as well as other loot boxes, calling them a form of gambling. But New Zealand hasn't followed suit.

In 2017 the Department of Internal Affairs ruled loot boxes do not meet the legal definition of gambling because "gamers do not purchase loot boxes seeking to win money or something that can be converted into money," Gamespot reported.