Account research and obvious alts
Most (not all) scammers are on throwaway alt accounts, which they ultimately expect to be trade banned at some point while their main account acts with relative impunity. These are pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for, so leading off we'll cover what constitutes an "obvious alt". There are no black and white criteria we can give on whether you should trust someone or not, but in general the greater the value of your trade, the more stringent you should be with these factors. If you're trading something low value, these factors are a lot less relevant, and this in no way discourages trading with newbies, but if you're trading for real-world money (any amount), for something outside the trading window, or in any capacity that requires trust (lending items, etc), you should take heed. Even if you're not trading outside the trade window, if you run across a trading partner with a lot of warning signs, you should be extremely careful and suspicious, pay special attention the scam types listed in the sections further down. The following are some warning signs to look for:
- You should never trust someone with a private backpack or profile. Scammers often use this to cover their tracks with item history trackers such as backpack.tf in TF2 or csgo.exchange in CS:GO.
- Beware of brand new accounts, or purchased accounts. Scammers are notorious for making new accounts each time they get banned. You can report them to SteamRep, or report them to Valve, but the sad truth is they're already counting on the account getting banned, and they plan to "cash out" or transfer your stolen items to another account long before any of that sets in. Many of them are career criminals who do this for a living, and it's a constant cat and mouse game, but as a consequence scammers have to keep making new accounts so you might be able to recognize a sketchy profile before you're scammed.
- Sometimes scammers buy accounts for their old creation date to look legitimate, but if you look around you can often identify these types of profiles. Check various trading websites for how actively the account is used; is their first trade posting 2 months ago, or 2 years ago? On their SteamRep profile, click the "Historical data" link and look at the dates their profile was viewed and cached; was this account from 2003 first viewed last week, with maybe 1 view a couple years ago, or is there a long list covering over a year? If the account has a really old creation date, but hasn't been used for trading until very recently, you should assume it was purchased and treat it the same as a new account.
- Low hours in the game they're trading for, with an unusually deep knowledge of the items and economy for that game. Ask yourself why someone who doesn't even own CS:GO, or who has less than 50 hours, is so interested in your knife. Does this level of high value trading seem logical for a newbie to understand?
- Look at the number of paid games in the account. Scammers love to boost their Steam level to look more legit. A single stolen knife will often more than cover the cost of leveling a profile to 100, but adding a bunch of games requires a more substantial investment, and you can see for yourself whether the games they do have are AAA titles like Elder Scrolls, or a bunch of cheap Indie games costing less than $1 each. An account with over 100 games is less likely to scam you than one with less than 10, but the key here is determining how invested they are in their account. Does it look like something a scammer would be tempted to throw away if it means running with your items, or does the account appear to be worth more than what they'd steal? Useful link for assessing their account's worth: https://steamdb.info/calculator/
- Quickselling newly obtained items, maybe just a couple days old in their backpack according to item trackers. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is, even if everything is in the trade window. Ask yourself why they're in such a hurry to trade this; usually scammers try to quicksell items as quickly as they can before the imminent trade ban, and since the items were stolen anyway they aren't really "losing profit".
TF2 item tracker: http://backpack.tf
CS:GO item tracker: http://csgo.exchange
- Nearly empty backpack except high value items and keys are often a sign that the account is being used for nefarious purposes (less applicable with game trading). Ask yourself if this type of backpack seems logical for a trader.
- If the person you're trading with puts emphasis on fake/worthless reputation such as profile comments, CSGO/DOTA2 Lounge reputation score, or any other "reputation" system that lacks accountability or transparency, you should reconsider whether to trade with them, at all. These forms of "reputation" do not provide any evidence of someone's trustworthiness, and are widely abused by scammers to appear more legitimate than they actually are. No amount of profile comments will negate any of these red flags, and more often than not anyone encouraging you to honor them, or vaguely citing rules about "who goes first" because of them, will try to scam you. We highly recommend reading this guide on what constitutes reputation.
- High Steam Level or expensive backpack does not mean reputable. As an added note to the above point on reputation, many scammers will approach you with a high Steam level, and try to assert that as a sign they are trustworthy. A single stolen knife can easily pay for leveling a profile up past 100, and scammers see it as a business investment to put victims at ease. If someone says you can trust them because of the items they have, their experience trading, or because their Steam level is higher than yours, you should avoid trading with them.
Below are a listing of some common scam types, and how to avoid them. It's not possible to list every type of scam, so you may still run across something not listed here, but these are among the more prevalent ones. While trading, it's important to take your time. If someone tries to rush you, they are probably going to scam you. Ignore the pressure, or decline to trade at all and find someone else. Making up stories like having to leave, acting impatient, or threatening to back out on a deal is a signature technique by scammers. Another common trick to cloud your judgement is to make the deal seem really enticing, such as something exceptionally profitable for you. You may even notice a scammer is unusually flexible when bartering over the price if they think you will back out if not met. As a general rule, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Nobody is going to legitimately offer you $400 PayPal for your $350 knife.
PayPal "gift" invoices are a common and widespread scam. Someone who wants to buy your items, but only deals with PayPal, may claim to send you a PayPal gift, in which they say the funds will appear shortly. In actuality, there is no such feature in PayPal, you will never receive that money, and they have dressed up an invoice as a payment with bogus custom headers and branding. If you "accept" the invoice, you will be sending money to the scammer, not receiving money, and if you send your items, you will not be paid. Instead of asking you to "accept" the invoice, the scammer may set it to "marked as paid"; to PayPal, this means the sender asserts you paid them through other means (mailing a check, etc.), and if you're not familiar with PayPal it may be unclear and seem like your money is "on its way" like the scammer says.
Similar in principle to fake PayPal invoices are Steam Wallet scams. It's important to realize that you cannot transfer Steam Wallet between accounts through trading. The only way to transfer funds is through the community market (more on that below). In the past, this was done using the /me command in chat (now removed) to change the color of text and appear like a system message. Today, with that functionality stripped, the "system message" is added into trade offer notes. Any trade offer claiming you will receive Steam Wallet funds after accepting is a scam, and you should not accept it.
A more dangerous variation of Steam Wallet fraud is aimed at people who realize Steam Wallet can't be transferred through trades. Instead of sending a bogus trade offer, the scammer may ask you to list an item in the Community Market at the price you seek, well above the market price, and promise to buy the item. While the scammer may simply run if you send the items before he "pays", they may instead buy it from a brand new throwaway account with a stolen credit card. You immediately receive money credited to your Steam Wallet, but a few days or weeks later the charge is reversed, the scammer is long gone with your items, and adding insult to injury Valve will trade ban or suspend your account for fraud or money laundering along with the scammer's alt. Alternatively, the scammer may ask you to buy the item at an inflated price in return for receiving a different item. The scammer may run with your money without sending the promised items if you go first, and then this unusual one-sided market transaction can similarly result in a trade ban or worse punishment from Valve. If someone tries to use the Steam Market as a medium for transferring funds outside the trade window, unless you have a good reason to trust them substantially, you should decline and request to trade case/crate keys instead.
Still often using Steam Wallet, but in a different technique, there is an old and evolved method of scamming sometimes called a Glimmer Drop or Bait and Switch. The scammer will have an expensive item, and advertise they want a very specific rare, but relatively worthless or hard-to-sell item in return. The scammer is firm in that this is the only item they want. Conveniently, someone else nearby has it, usually on the Steam Market but sometimes in a trade server or a friend of the scammer contacting you around the same time. The item, often a rare/new emoticon or foil trading card but sometimes something else difficult to find, is substantially overpriced by the seller, but still below the price for what you'd expect to spend for the expensive item. No matter how you barter, even pointing to a market listing and offering more than the marketed item is priced at in keys, the scammer will refuse anything except that one rare item. What they don't tell you, however, is the scammer bought up all of that one item, and is using the expensive item to sell the rare item from their other account for well more than it's worth. As soon as you buy the item, they will block you and run with the profit, leaving you stuck with a worthless item you won't be able to sell. For this particular scam, it's best to recognize there is no guarantee the seller will honor their trade listing; and unless you already have (or can get without overpaying) the item they're asking for, skip it and move on. As a general rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Another common scam type is known as Quick Switching. This can take several forms, but it always ends with the victim receiving something other than what they expected and agreed upon. In a regular trade window, the scammer might have 2 of the same item with different qualities, each worth a vastly different amount, such as an Unusual hat and Vintage hat in TF2, or the same knife in Factory New and Battle Scarred quality. During the trade, the scammer will ask you to add or remove a bunch of items, or possibly add/remove a bunch of items himself, stating he's unhappy with the trade, and wants something really insignificant such as crates or worthless skins. Amidst the spam, the scammer will quickly switch the expensive item for a less expensive item and hope the victim doesn't notice the change. With the same icon visible, the victim may click "Accept" without paying attention to the slight change, and only notice after the scammer has left.
In more recent variations of this scam, a scammer may list a valuable item on CSGO Lounge, TF2 Outpost, or an equivalent trading website with an enticing price from their alt account. The alt account will borrow the expensive item, for the sake of listing it, and the trade listing will say to only send trade offers. Once listed, the scammer will switch out the item in the alt account's backpack for a similar-looking item of substantially lower value, such as a Battle-Scarred quality variation, and wait for an unsuspecting victim to jump on the lucrative deal without paying attention to the item quality while sending a trade offer.
Similar to the misleading trade listings, scammers also often use counter offers to try and mislead victims about what they are getting. For example, you may send an offer for a burning flames hat in TF2, and a scammer may reply with a counter offer containing a higher price, but the same hat in the same window with dead presidents. Or they may switch out an identical knife for one of a different quality. There are several other variations to how this is done, but all variations of the quick switch scam can be prevented by taking your time and paying close attention to details of items you're trading for. Before committing to any trade, always double-check the item you're receiving is exactly what you're expecting, and if it's not then don't accept the trade. Pay especially close attention to the item quality and other details such as effect.
Perhaps the most well-known, yet sadly most prevalent scam is phishing and account hijacking. If you find all of your valuable items randomly traded away to some profile you don't recognize, you have almost certainly fallen victim to this type of scam. There are multiple variations of this, including links sent from a scammer's "competitive/team" TeamSpeak server, fake .scr "screenshots", traditional fake Steam login pages, and remote assistance tools (RAT) disguised as (or packaged with) other programs. A number of these programs appear as "hacks" to cheat without VAC bans or obtain valuable items, or "cracked" games or key generators, including the widespread such "upvoted" videos on YouTube urging you to download totally legit cracks. It's extremely important not to trust links sent to you in Steam. Some examples of why:
- A website you're linked to may ask for your Steam login information, but actually be a fake phishing website. If you enter your username and password, you are giving it to an account hijacker, who will steal all your items. See the account hijack recovery guide.
- If it doesn't ask for your account information, it may prompt you to download some file such as a screenshot or plugin. Recently, some of these websites say to install an "escrow" client or "steamguard" patch. If you download or open this file, it will infect your computer and the scammer will be able to take control of your account or computer behind the scenes. This is extremely common (77,000 per month according to Valve), and evident from your items later getting traded to someone you don't recognize. See the account hijack recovery guide.
- Links to SteamRep profiles, reputation threads, or profiles on trading websites, very often belong to someone else who has copied the owner's profile. If someone sends a link to a profile or reputation thread of some sort, it's extremely vital you confirm it's really them, and not just by checking if the profile looks the same. If they linked you to a profile that doesn't match, they are 100% going to try and scam you.
- Just because a link loads in Steam (as opposed to in a new browser window) doesn't mean it's legit. Scammers often link to other people's Steam profiles to appear legitimate. There may be a single letter off, such as a 'q' instead of 'g' or a capital 'i' instead of a lowercase 'L', or the trade offer link may point to someone else's profile than who you expect.
- In much, much rarer cases than above, links in chat may lead to exploits which can compromise your Steam account. If you see a link that starts with steam:, or it's unusually long and has weird-looking characters in it, you should be extremely suspicious. In many (not all) of the rare cases where some item-stealing or account-stealing exploit is waiting to be patched, you will need to follow a link for it to affect you.
Following onto the above about not trusting links, another widespread scam is impersonation. The scammer will pretend to be someone reputable and trustworthy in order for you to send them your items. This seems very simple, straightforward, and obvious; but there are a number of elaborate variations, and impersonating profiles are often very detailed and similar, leaving even the more experienced and knowledgeable traders scratching their heads. It's not just newbies who fall for impersonators.
Commonly, scammers will level up brand new (or purchased) Steam profiles to look exactly the same as someone else's profile. The vast majority of these impersonate middlemen from this list, but it's also common for scammers to impersonate other community admins, Valve employees, top-ranking backpacks, streamers, other celebrities, and people from your friends list. These profiles are often made in bulk, and I've personally seen single scammer accounts with over 100 well-copied middleman impersonators in their friend list, ready to scam. Bear in mind, a single stolen knife or unusual dropped on the community market can often more than pay for the trading cards used to level several accounts past 100. Here is an example impersonation of Penguin the Fluffy - this could easily be made into a closer copy and I've seen better, but notice the profile URL is off by just 1 letter from the real one, and almost all the details on the profile page are identical.
Typically, this scam will involve one perpetrator who wants to buy your items at a really good deal, and recommends using a middleman if you don't trust them. The scammer, who himself may look exactly like a community admin, streamer, celebrity, or whatever, will link a middleman's profile, maybe several asking you to pick one. Increasingly, scammers are also impersonating Valve employees (example fake profile), threatening with trade bans or other such consequences in order to pressure victims into acting quickly and carelessly. The links may be to legitimate SteamRep profiles, or Steam profile links misspelled copies from the real middleman (see example above). They may do other things to try and make it seem like you've verified the middleman, but the scammer will suddenly invite their alt account, a copy of the middleman's profile, into a group chat and trick you into believing you're dealing with the real middleman. Once you trade your items, both the "buyer" and the middleman will leave the chat (or kick you), and you won't receive any money. There are thousands of these fake profiles, each actively scamming, and if you don't take the necessary steps to verify who you traded with, you might be one of many new victims that day. If you feel pressured or rushed by either the middleman or the buyer, we recommend you back out of the trade. I can't stress it enough: please follow these steps to confirm who you're trading with before you make the trade.
A more complicated, but perhaps even more common form of the impersonation scam is often known as the trusted friend scam. In this case, a buyer will express interest in paying a (more than) reasonable price for your items, something around your buyout, but make up an excuse for you to temporarily trade your items to a "trusted friend". Excuses may include checking if your item is "duped" or "glitched", proving you're trustworthy, or some other nonsensical explanation. The scammer will ask for a link to your friend's profile so they can add your friend (and possibly perform the 2-part variation of this scam). After all, since you trust your friend, this seems harmless enough, right?
This is where the scam starts. The scammer will use their alt account to copy your friend's profile, and invite the copy into a group chat with you. Meanwhile, an additional profile will be used to copy your own profile, and invite your imposter into a group chat with your friend if they accepted. You and your friend will both be in a different chat, with a separate imposter, thinking you're looking at your friend. The scammer will keep both group chats open, and pretend to be the friend in each respective group chat, asking both you and your friend to send items to "eachother" as proof of your trust relationship, while actually sending them to the scammer's alt accounts. The 2nd part of this scam takes advantage of someone who might be familiar with the scam, and is trying to waste the scammer's time. While you may have seen this a hundred times, there is a good chance your non-trader friend has not. So if you safely trade your items to your actual friend, the scammer will impersonate you to the friend, citing the details of this arrangement you just explained explained to them, and ask for your items "returned" to his alt. Once the scammer has your items, they will either proceed to ask for additional items until you both catch on, or leave the group chat.
To avoid the trusted friend scam, we recommend you back out at the very first sign of someone trying this. Do not attempt to troll the scammer, because as explained above, they will often succeed in stealing your items from your friend in part 2. If for some reason you do need to send items to your friend, you should always send friend requests directly from your friends list, and confirm you're really speaking to your friend over another secure channel such as telephone or a voice chat. Do not send trade requests from group chat, and do not accept incoming trade requests unless you are receiving the items.
Using a middleman
A lot of misinformation has been spread around about what middlemen are for and what they do. Valve recommends you not use middlemen at all, but they also recommend not trading for anything outside the trade window. A middleman is a trusted third party who holds items during an exchange where one or both parties do not trust the other. As a trusted third party, it's important that both parties can trust and feel comfortable with the middleman. For example, your best friend would not be a trusted third party, because your friend would take your side in any dispute that arose, and the person you're trading with has no reason to trust your friend, defeating the purpose of a middleman. For the same reason, the middleman should be someone you can trust and feel comfortable with (we provide a list of community-endorsed middlemen); just because the other trader introduces them and assures you they're trustworthy, or because they have "official" or "middleman" in their name/avatar, does not make them legitimate. The middleman should be an unbiased, impartial party who can make a fair decision no matter which side says things aren't right.
If you are trading for money, a middleman may in fact be in order, especially if you have doubts about the trade. Any legitimate middleman will happily give you their professional opinion on whether someone is safe to trade with. In fact, if they're doing their job they will back out of the trade and recommend you do the same if they see something fishy about the account. The purpose of a middleman is for a trade that involves goods outside of the Steam window, such as a PayPal transaction. Generally speaking, a middleman transaction consists of the following steps:
- Seller sends items to middleman (PLEASE verify the middleman is legit)
- Buyer sends money to seller
- Middleman confirms money is sent
- Middleman sends items to buyer
Note, this video is not intended to be a guide on becoming a middleman. It's intended to illustrate some things you should be looking for when using a middleman's services. Trying these steps without knowing what you're doing can - and often will - land you in a very sticky situation you do not want to be in, and sometimes a trade ban from Valve. Legitimate middlemen are aware of these risks, put their accounts on the line free of charge to try and keep you safe, and are very careful about who they accept items from. If you are not familiar with this process, do not try it.
Below are some situations in which you may not want to use a middleman, and you should be suspicious of and avoid trading with anyone imposing these situations on you:
- Buyer insists on checking if your items are "glitched" or "duped", and wants to "inspect" them after being traded, or otherwise insists on them changing owners before making a trade.
- Buyer wants you to prove you are trustworthy or trust a "friend" by loaning your items.
- Someone claiming to be a middleman or Valve employee says they need to "inspect" or "fix" your items, or threatens you with a ban of some sort if you don't comply.