At first, it seemed like a dream come true. A would-be games industry worker received an email from a recruiter asking them to apply for a job at Riot Games. After a brief interview process that spanned multiple rounds over email and Discord, they got the offer. Everything looked official. All paperwork had the Riot logo and professional job copy, seemingly sent from a person who worked at Riot Games. Then, the Riot Games human resources representative — or, rather, a person posing as a representative — started asking for money.
The applicant was young, newly graduated from college, and unsure about hiring protocol during the pandemic. They went along with the process, supplying the representative with the information they asked for: Everything from banking information for direct deposit and hundreds of dollars for an “expensable” Apple iPad Pro.
When they tried to cash the reimbursement check, that’s when they got denied: It was all a scam. They hadn’t gotten a job at Riot Games, and now they were out hundreds of dollars.
“I’ve been rejected from a lot of jobs,” they told Polygon. “This felt much worse.”
That applicant was not the only one to be impacted by this work-recruitment scam. Polygon spoke to several people who’ve been contacted by the scam ring, each of whom described a complex process that included multiple rounds of interviews, as well as a doctored onboarding process and contract materials. Riot Games is not the only game company being impersonated; sources tell Polygon they’ve been contacted by scammers posing as HR and recruiting representatives at Rockstar Games and Manticore Games, among others. But Riot Games is the studio that’s now taking action.
In a lawsuit filed in November in a California court, Riot Games is suing the unnamed scammers for fraud and infringement. Riot lawyer Dan Nabel told Polygon that the lawsuit is essential in learning more information about the scammers. Tracking them down is the first step in holding them accountable.
“[The scam] is absolutely appalling,” Riot’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. “Their victims largely are young, naïve, and want nothing more than to work for Riot, one of the most prestigious video game companies in the world. Defendants prey on the hopes and dreams of these individuals in order to steal their identities and pillage their bank accounts.”
The lawsuit details the scam setup, though the approach varies: Some applicants are contacted by a recruiter, while others apply for fake jobs listed on websites like Indeed. Hopeful applicants are then put in contact, via Discord, email, or another chat platform, with a person impersonating Riot Games human resources employees and managers. Depending on the platform, victims told Polygon, handles would be adjusted to seem official, such as a Discord account bearing the name of an actual Riot Games recruiter. Interview rounds would then take place with an impersonated Riot employee, over the same platforms, with the scammer asking detailed questions about the applicant’s personal work experience.
Soon after targeting an applicant and taking them through a fake interview process, the scammer will reply with a job offer, including a contract bearing the Riot Games logo, signed by a “chief HR officer.” Applicants are then asked to transfer money for “work equipment,” which will be “refundable” via an online check that turns out to be fraudulent.
When reached for comment by Polygon, Indeed said it goes to “extraordinary lengths” to remove fraudulent job postings. “We encourage job seekers to report any suspicious job advertisements to us, or if they feel it necessary, to make a report to the police,” an Indeed representative said. “We encourage all job seekers to review our Guidelines for a Safe Job Search.”
Nabel told Polygon that Riot Games heard about the scam months ago, when a victim contacted the company after filing a police report with their local department. Other emails and support tickets came in with similar information, so Riot started investigating. Nabel said that police departments and even federal law enforcement aren’t equipped to take on these sorts of scams, since they’re often international in scope. It’s hard for federal law enforcement to take action for that same reason. Nabel said Riot isn’t entirely clear on how many folks have been impacted by the scam thus far, but at least one person got in contact with Riot to confirm they had been lost money to the scam. Polygon spoke to at least one other victim who sent money to the scammers, and five others who engaged in interviews or received emails from the group.
“We’re upset that people who viewed Riot as their dream company, even if that’s one person, had been defrauded through this scam,” Nabel said. “Secondarily, we felt a need to protect our employees who are having their identities impersonated.”
The people who have been defrauded in these scams typically won’t get their money back. One victim told Polygon that both the bank and police said it was too late, since they weren’t hacked or forced to give up the money. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission lists some steps victims can take immediately following a scam — including how to report it — but oftentimes the funds are already lost.
Some experts have pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic to explain the uptick in these sorts of scams. There’s a confluence of reasons for the increase: A lot of people are out of work due to the pandemic and desperate for new options. Remote-work culture is part of that, too; many job seekers are newly tied down to their personal devices, which sometimes lack essential security. The FTC reported in February that scam victims lost more than $3.3 billion in 2020 — an increase of 83% compared to 2019. There’s the tendency to think that older people, over 70 or so, are more likely to be scammed, but the FTC said 44% of the 2020 reports were made by people aged 20 to 29.
“80% or more of what’s fueling this problem is that you don’t have a physical office location to visit and say, ‘Oh, I can see the logo of the game company, and I can see the employees walking around,’” Nabel said. “When it’s all done remotely, it makes people more susceptible to this kind of predatory behavior, unfortunately.”