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Turkey: Hackers allegedly used streaming platform Twitch to launder $10m

Hundreds of streamers said to have taken 20 percent cut to help launder money stolen by hackers through credit cards
Twitch underlined that the company would continue to identify and remove any streamers found to have engaged in financial practices that were in violation of local laws or Twitch policies (AFP)
By Muhdan Saglam in Ankara

A group of Turkish live streamers have in recent weeks exposed an alleged fraud and money laundering ring that utilised the live streaming platform Twitch, reportedly netting hackers nearly $10m.

Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, describes itself as "an interactive livestreaming service for content spanning gaming, entertainment, sports and music".

The scandal surfaced after an anonymous hacker leaked Twitch’s source code and user payout information online last month.

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Having examined the leak, users in Turkey quickly realised something was odd - streamers with little to almost no following were earning thousands of dollars through a platform called Bit, which allows viewers to express their appreciation to the hosts with special paid emojis.

Twitch transfers one percent of income obtained through Bit to the individual streamers. Some were found to be earning up to $1,800 a day, despite have just 40 to 50 viewers.

Under the scam, hackers firstly allegedly stole or obtained the credit card information of random individuals. They then negotiated deals with Twitch streamers to send them large payments of money through Bit.

The streamers would then refund 80 percent of the money they received to different bank accounts belonging to the hackers, effectively laundering the money. 

'Clean Twitch'

Global Twitch streamers, who became aware of the money laundering scam following the leak, last month began a social media campaign on Twitter via a hashtag called #dobettertwitch.

Turkish Twitch users then started their own campaign with a hashtag calling for a “clean Twitch” (#temizTwitch). 

According to the calculations by the Turkish news website, a total of $9.8m was laundered through 2,400 Turkish streamers over the past two years. 

A Twitter account named TemizBirTwitch (a clean Twitch) periodically shares the broadcasters who allegedly received irregular Bit payments 

Turkish Twitch streamer Grimnax, who is one of the campaigners, earlier this week revealed a conversation he had with one of the scammers, posting the screenshots on Twitter.

The screenshots suggest a person named Sinan had offered him a 20 percent cut of the Bit income per broadcast if he agreed to refund the remaining amount of money. 

“This is something that many of us have been aware of for a long time, but we couldn’t confirm Twitch and the owner Amazon nor the audience for years,” Grinmax told Middle East Eye. 

“We waited for the prominent names on the platform to talk about this issue, as I and mid-level influencers like me weren't loud enough.” 

Translation: "The offers are still coming in. I'm not a good enough publisher I guess they only leave me 20 percent"

Grinmax said following the expose of the scandal by prominent Twitch streamers, now even lawmakers have become interested in the issue.

“I want people to realise how big this fraud is, not only in Turkey but also globally,” he added.

Jahrein, one of the most well known influencers, who has 1.7 million followers on Twitch, has become the flag bearer of the issue and publicly called on Twitch to act. 

With Jahrein, whose real name is Ahmet Sonuc, and other influencers’ efforts, authorities have now started investigating the issue. 

“I have testified and shared data I have with the police cybercrime office about fraud,”  Jahrein said in a broadcast this week.

After meeting with Jahrein, Gursel Tekin, an Istanbul deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), presented a motion to parliament calling for the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (Masak) and other relevant Turkish state institutions to scrutinise the scandal.

“After our motion became public, a lot of people reached us," Tekin told MEE.

"They were all victims. We've heard very interesting stories, we don't know how many of them are true or false. Our duty is to bring the allegations about this fraud to the public arena.”

Other streamers like Iro Sako also said that without the public leak, which contained 125 gigabytes of information, no one would have been able to pick up on the irregularities on the platform. 

“Even though I am a mid-band streamer, I decided to take the initiative and start an awareness movement called a clean twitch, trusting my audience and teammates,'' Sako told MEE. 

'Decisive action'

A Twitch spokesperson told MEE the company had taken action against 150 streamers in Turkey for abuse of its monetisation tools.  

"We want to assure our community that we will not hesitate to take decisive action against accounts engaged in prohibited conduct,” the spokersperon said. 

“We take efforts to combat and prevent financial fraud on Twitch on a regular basis, and, in September alone, we took action against more than 150 partners in Turkey for abuse of our monetisation tools.

"We have also worked with those affected who have reached out to us.”

Twitch underlined that the company would continue to identify and remove any streamers found to have engaged in financial practices that were in violation of local laws or Twitch policies.

Some of the people whose credit card information was stolen under the scam have highlighted their plight on Twitter and Turkish sites like Sikayet Var, where consumers share their complaints and problems about products and services to find solutions. 

Posting on Twitter, Didem Akay said 10,000 Turkish lira ($1,046) had been deducted from his credit card without his authorisation.

Aslan, an art teacher in Izmir, said she had become aware of being targeted through mobile phone messages sent to her by her bank showing 10,000 Turkish lira ($1,046) had been taken from her credit card. 

"I don't even know what Twitch is. I am a victim and I need to seriously save money for seven to eight months to pay this debt,” Akay told MEE.

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