Shopping for games? Keep your money safe

Like to buy games online? Splurge on cool gear and loot boxes? Would you give your right arm for a good discount, and do you trust online sellers without a second thought? Congratulations, you’re a sitting duck for cybercriminals who hunt for credit card details and gaming accounts, or trade nonexistent items. We explain how to buy online without pouring money down the drain.

1. Buy from official sources

It may sound obvious, but official stores are the only places you should purchase games, virtual accessories, gaming merch, and other related items. That’s not because it’s what good children do; it’s simply the only way to get at least some guarantees. If you buy something on a shady site and the seller disappears, your money is gone for good.

So, our first recommendation is to shop for PC games either on well-known platforms like Steam and GOG or on official developer sites, download mobile apps from the App Store or Google Play, and buy in-game items only in games.

If you’re looking to buy an unusual mod, you may have luck on developers’ websites. Steam Workshop, for example, is a good place to find other players’ creations. But no-name sites pushing awesome mods aren’t worth the risk.

2. Save smart

Shopping sales and promotions is a good way to save money — if you do it with care. For example, the Epic Games Store regularly gives away games. But don’t rush to click the link in an e-mail promising a huge discount on a just-released AAA title. The most tempting offers are usually a scam. Instead, manually enter the URL of the developer’s or store’s website in your browser and see if the discount is mentioned there — if not, it’s not real.

Another way people try to save money is by shopping for second-hand accounts or game keys on gray-market sites. Don’t do it. The odds are good that the item was stolen and will be blocked — and because the developers and legal publishers are out of the loop, there are no money-back guarantees.

3. Check the return policy

Before buying, know the store’s rules for returning a game you don’t like or that doesn’t work on your computer. This is especially important if you’re not sure the title is worth the asking price.

Most authorized retailers offer refunds, but terms and conditions may vary. For example, for games from Google Play, you have 48 hours from the time of purchase to make up your mind. Steam might refuse to refund a game you’ve played for more than two hours.

What’s more, the rules can vary from game to game. For example, a discounted game might be nonrefundable. It’s best to know such things in advance.

4. Use a dedicated card for online shopping

Would you believe websites sometimes get hacked? Really! If that misfortune befalls your favorite store, your payment details could end up in cybercriminal hands. Glitches can also lead to leaks of sensitive information, as happened on Steam. Instead of linking any card with access to piles of cash, get a debit card for online shopping and top it up as needed. That way, if intruders break in, they won’t get much.

Some banks issue virtual cards specifically for that purpose. You can also look for payment cards meant for gamers, with offers of extra cash back on gaming platforms and in-game bonuses.

5. Use a secure connection

On public networks, the information you send online — be it card details or login credentials — is sometimes transmitted unencrypted, meaning network administrators and hackers alike can read it. We recommend logging in to online stores only from home (having properly secured your home network, of course).

If, as luck would have it, you’re stuck in a coffee shop as the last seconds of a promotion count down, use a VPN. For example, Kaspersky Secure Connection protects your data from interception on a public network.

6. Protect your accounts

Don’t forget to secure your accounts; that’s where your purchases are stored. To prevent cybercrooks from selling off your collection and spending money on your card, protect your account on Steam and Battle.net, and on any social network profiles you use to sign in to gaming stores (but don’t use social network accounts to log in elsewhere if you can help it).

For the same reason, it’s important to check which sites you’ve logged in to through social networks. For example, to find the list on Facebook, go to Settings, then click Apps and Websites in the left-hand menu.

7. Protect your devices

The computers, smartphones, and tablets you use for gaming also need protection. A reliable antivirus blocks fraudulent websites and malware, provides alerts about security issues, and, contrary to popular misconception, does not spoil gameplay. The gaming mode you’ll find in modern security solutions turns on automatically when you play in full-screen mode.