Criminals Targeting Victims with the Geo-Located Pokémon Go Game

This weekend brought a rash of robberies in Missouri thanks to the popular app. And that's not the only unintended consequence of augmented reality.

Game logo (Photo: Pokémon Go)

Over the past week, the new geo-located augmented reality Pokémon Go game has been a hit. Already it has spawned uplifting (if questionable) viral stories; thousands of tweets; a near takeover of Reddit's r/gaming. But can criminals use it to plan crimes?

Apparently so. From the the police department of O'Fallon, Missouri, who described a robbery that targeted players: 

This was confusing, though: How did armed robbers use the mobile game, where you pursue the collection of different Pokémon critters through tossing a ball at them, to find victims? 

The police department obliged with their theory:

Gizmodo reported that eight or nine people were targeted over the weekend with this technique. But robbery isn't the only problem in a game that bridges the virtual and the real. A man named Boon Sheridan took to Twitter to explain what life was like after his home was listed as a "gym"—an area where players could gather to fight each other (in the game). It seems like he lives in an old church in Holyoke, Massachusetts—which made his privately-owned property look like a place that could be a public spot in the game.

These cats figured it out, the bench in the park across the street is close enough to be ‘in’ the gym. pic.twitter.com/HAlVp84cd6

— Boon Sheridan (@boonerang) July 9, 2016

Other poké-problems include a rash of injuries ("I slipped and fell in a ditch") and, as the Guardian explained, the finding of a dead body. 

“I just got up and went for my little walk, a walk to catch Pokémon,” 19-year-old Shayla Wiggens told local KCWY news. The pursuit led her to a highway bridge over the river, where she jumped a fence to approach the water. She spotted two deer near the water’s edge, and then a black shirt and pants – a corpse lying prone in the water, 6ft to her left.

According to the Independent UK, there isn't much that players (or robbery victims) can do to report bad locations to game developers. "For the moment, it isn’t possible to have your own house removed from Pokemon Go," the newspaper wrote, "Developers Niantic only allow people to report locations if they present 'immediate physical danger', and makes clear that requests to have them removed 'for other reasons cannot be addressed at this time'."

Those who have taken to social media to bemoan slow loading times might want to get back into the cat-based, resolutely low-tech Neko Atsume.