Pokemon GO players beware; according to Ars Technica, police in O’Fallon, Missouri, have put out a statement warning players that victims of “multiple armed robberies” on Sunday morning at approximately 2 a.m. were believed to have been tracked through Pokemon GO — and lured in by the deployment of a Pokemon “beacon.”
“This morning at approximately 2 a.m. we responded to the report of an Armed Robbery near the intersection of Highway K and Feise Road. We were able to locate four suspects occupying a black BMW a short time later and recover a handgun. These suspects are suspected of multiple Armed Robberies both in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties. It is believed these suspects targeted their victims through the Pokemon Go smart phone application.
“Many of you have heard of Pokemon Go, but for those that have not, it is a type of Geo Caching game where you find and capture Pokemon characters at various locations. If you use this app (or other similar type apps) or have children that do we ask you to please use caution when alerting strangers of your future location.
“**Many of you have asked how the app was used to rob victims, the way we believe it was used is you can add a beacon to a pokestop to lure more players. Apparently they were using the app to locate ppl standing around in the middle of a parking lot or whatever other location they were in.**”
While the police are perhaps being alarmist — Pokemon GO can’t actually be used to track other players — they’re absolutely right that Pokemon GO players should remain aware of their surroundings and circumstances. According to the Boston Globe, reports of injuries sustained while catching Pokemon are already pouring in, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that there are areas everywhere that it’s not smart to be in alone at two in the morning waving an expensive phone around.
According to Gizmodo, the O’Fallon police confirmed to them that four men in a black BMW allegedly used the game to stake out a specific location, looking for players, then proceeding to rob them at gunpoint — there were eight or nine victims in total, according to police.
The perpetrators were apprehended Sunday morning, and ranged in age from 16 to 18; that a plot to rob people through Pokemon was hatched by teenagers is perhaps no great surprise.
It’s worth explaining the game’s “beacon” function for current and prospective players; according to Oregon Live, any player can place a Lure Module on any specific PokeStop. The Lure Module causes the PokeStop to pour out heart confetti, visible to anyone in range, luring in Pokemon to catch — and other players. The Lure Modules can be found in-game, or purchased for real money, meaning that anyone can use them within moments of starting; there’s no guarantee that the Lure was placed by an experienced player.
So if you’re playing Pokemon GO and you see a Lure, it’s worth thinking about where it is and when it is before thundering after it; while reports of the dangers of technology are frequently overstated, there’s no guarantee that somebody on the other end doesn’t mean you harm. If you’re not certain of the risk, it’s best to keep in mind that discretion is the better part of valor and wait until you’re somewhere bright and safe to grab that Pikachu.
If you’re really uncertain where it’s safe to go, consider checking out a local Ingress group. Ingress is the Augmented Reality (AR) game Niantic Labs developed before Pokemon GO — and it uses the same map and stops. Many Ingress players have been playing for years and have established a community, and are happy to share their knowledge with new AR gamers.
In the meantime, keep catching those Pokemon — and keep being safe.
[AP Photo/Richard Vogel]