Nintendo's Pokémon GO smartphone app is taking the world by storm, allowing players to track down and capture their favorite Pokémon in the real world. The game is designed to get players out exploring, and has opportunities for players to work together to bring down larger threats as well.
Unfortunately, someone found a way to take advantage of the game's design in a nefarious way. By using in-game items that are designed to make it easier for multiple players to capture Pokémon, the Poké-criminals set unsuspecting players up for an armed robbery.
According to the O'Fallon Missouri Police Department, four suspects were behind the robberies and were using Pokémon GO to lure unsuspecting victims to an ambush point. This was done by setting up an item known as a Lure Module, which attracts Pokémon to a specific physical location; the idea is to bring lots of Pokémon around for players to capture. Other players can see when a Lure Module is active, so it's a good place to visit if you're looking for a bunch of Pokémon to catch. The suspects activated the Lure Module, then waited for players to come to them.
The O'Fallon Police Department apprehended the suspects, and claims that they've also been tied to other armed robberies in St. Louis and St. Charles counties in Missouri. The O'Fallon PD released a statement about the robbery on Facebook, urging players to be aware of their surroundings when playing outdoors and use caution when interacting with strangers through game apps.
When news first broke on this story, it seemed almost like the sort of cautionary tale that urban legends are made of. Pokémon GO obviously wasn't intended to be used this way, and it seems difficult to believe that someone could actually manipulate a smartphone game to bring about a real-world robbery. What's scary in this case is that it really happened, though the robbers were more taking advantage of how many people are playing than an exploit within the game itself.
Obviously, this was the action of a small group of individuals and isn't necessarily a problem with the larger game community. It does, however, serve as a solid warning about how dangerous it can be to be lost in your phone in public, though. Not only can you set yourself up for trouble, but being too focused on apps can make you less aware of potential dangers in your environment. While it's fine to try and catch 'em all, be sure to keep an eye on what's happening beyond your screen as well.
Pokémon GO is now available for Android and iOS devices.
Source: O'Fallon Missouri Police Department, via ComicBook.com