Fallout 76 is the current flagship game in the Fallout franchise, and Bethesda has continued to patch up the holes from its rough launch and regularly adds new content. But as the developers continue onward with expansions like a postapocalyptic Pittsburgh, the game’s communities create their own content and structure. Some players have built private Worlds and run a role-play endeavor, while others have established complex networks for “couriers” to sell high-end items in the game without getting scammed.
There’s nothing new about in-game scams. Many of us who have grown up with games like Runescape can share the terrible tale of being lured into a deal that’s too good to be true, only to find all of our gear and gold gone. Now a profitable scam economy has emerged in Fallout 76, taking advantage of those who play the game on consoles. In response, players have organized to try to stop the scammers, creating a vital volunteer service — but one that is proving to also be a drain on time and emotional investment.
One of the primary goals of Fallout 76 is to obtain high-end legendary gear, which come equipped with special modifiers. A vampiric blade, for instance, will restore health on every hit, while a gun might do more damage to full-health enemies or heal party members every time the weapon crits. These weapons drop randomly from legendary enemies, like the fearsome Scorchbeast Queen, and while there are other ways to purchase them, there’s no way to predict what will be available. You’re always at the mercy of random generation. This sets up a loop — play the game, sell the legendaries you can’t use for caps, and use those caps for creature comforts in the game while farming for more legendaries.
“No one wants caps; [they] want other items in return. Players want an armor set, or they want five or six weapons in return,” said Nick Rizzo, one of the most dedicated Fallout 76 couriers who maintains Scam List 76, a community-maintained list of scammers meant to push bad actors out of the market.
While players can sell unwanted goods for caps by putting vending machines down at their CAMP, there’s no in-game way for players to barter with each other for items. But players aren’t interested in caps; they’d rather trade for other legendary equipment with excellent modifiers. As such, they’ve taken to social media groups on Facebook or Discord to find trading partners, or have even gone to eBay, Gameflip, or similar digital marketplaces to participate in a sort of gray market.
Players may choose to do a flat trade, where they and another player exchange items. This requires an incredible show of trust — one player has to be willing to provide their item(s) first, and the other will drop theirs in response. Alternatively, if a player has a more rare piece of equipment, they may list it for real-world money in a virtual marketplace like eBay. A scammer can list an item, pocket the money, but never follow through with providing the promised gear.
“Currently, there’s no way for us to easily trade items back and forth. In game, the only way to do it is either you use a courier, a third party or you take the risk, put your stuff up for 0 first, they take it and just hope to God they’re into the deal,” said Rizzo.
As a result, Fallout 76 communities have appointed verified couriers who coordinate trades between players, via Facebook or Discord message, or mule items between players in order to get around the systems implemented by Bethesda. These verified sellers gather in groups on Facebook, working together to create a network for safe sales with trusted middlemen.
These dedicated players also maintain scam lists in an attempt to keep bad actors out of the community, because their presence is an existential threat to building a sustainable fan base. “[A friend] got scammed out of $80; he put his side of the trade up for 0 first, and it got stolen, and that was it,” said Rizzo. “He left the game. He refuses to play it. Because what’s the point? And it’s getting significantly worse here over the past few months.”
Scam List 76 is a community effort, started back in 2018 after the game’s launch. Rizzo and other community leaders like Nick Jochim maintain it, with a specific laser focus on bad-faith sellers attempting to find marks in areas like Fallout 76 console communities.
Despite such lists, scammers can work around it by creating alt accounts or even posing as the couriers themselves. “One scammer created a profile with the same name as a courier, replacing a lowercase L in her name with a capital I,” said Jochim in a call with Polygon. “It’s unbelievable what people will try.”
Scammers ceaselessly create alts, according to Rizzo and Jochim. The two sides are in an arms race, with one side trying to maintain a comprehensive list of unsafe players and facilitating people buying their items in a curated community, while the other side tries to break those protocols and pull off their scams, which net real money.
The demands of a live-service game, which continually introduces new goals and gear for players, have caused a recent rash of scams. There was a time of relative peace through the summer of 2020 and 2021, as players on consoles discovered a dupe glitch that allowed them to mass-produce the game’s most treasured items. (PC players, who can easily duplicate items, haven’t been hit by scammers in the same way.) The laws of supply and demand carry over into Fallout 76, and when there’s a mass supply, there’s no demand.
However, the addition of legendary crafting and new, more powerful weapons alongside updates like Wastelanders and Steel Reign have caused that gear to drop in value, and the new hot weaponry can sell for tens or even hundreds of dollars.
“It’s now incentivizing a lot of these guys to come back into the game, and start scamming and doing what they’re doing again,” said Rizzo. “And the only way to really fix that is you need to have an actual trade and transfer system put into the game. Bethesda, at least in my view, it looks like they’re not going to put much more time or effort into the game because it’s not growing the way they hoped.”
The couriers of Fallout 76 currently feel dejected. Polygon reviewed multiple instances of communication via messages with Bethesda support staff, including emails with the game’s support line. Despite regular attempts by the couriers to get a solid response from Bethesda’s support lines and staff, they haven’t seen much change. Polygon contacted Bethesda for comment; it did not respond by the time of publication.
“At the time we started [the group], we thought we would be doing this for maybe six months just to fill the gap until Bethesda came out with a proper trade system,” said Jochim. “We never would have dreamed almost four years later, we’re still dealing with it.”