Steam users have been suffering from account theft since the service first launched, but ever since Valve introduced Steam Trading to the mix, the number of accounts being stolen increased exponentially. Once an account is stolen, it’s actually fairly easy to get it back or lock it down, which makes it virtually worthless to thieves. If the account has virtual items that can be sold for real money, and can easily be transferred to a separate account, however, the account becomes much more valuable to thieves. This has become such a big problem that Valve sees somwhere “around 77,000 accounts hijacked and pillaged each month.”
Recently we’ve seen the community have a good discussion about the pros and cons of trade holds. We thought we’d walk through how we decided to implement them, in the hopes that it helps you understand why they’re absolutely necessary. Account theft has been around since Steam began, but with the introduction of Steam Trading, the problem has increased twenty-fold as the number one complaint from our users. Having your account stolen, and your items traded away, is a terrible experience, and we hated that it was becoming more common for our customers. Once an account was compromised, the items would be quickly cleaned out. They’d then be traded again and again, eventually being sold to an innocent user. Looking at their account activity, it wasn’t too hard to figure out what happened, but undoing it was harder because we don’t want to take things away from innocent users. We decided to err on the side of protecting them: we left the stolen goods, and we created duplicates on the original compromised account to replace them. We were fully aware of the tradeoff here. Duplicating the stolen items devalues all the other equivalent items in the economy. This might be fairly minor for common items, but for rare items this had the potential to significantly increase the number in existence.
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