You’ve probably seen the videos. Since Red Dead Redemption 2 launched on PC late last year, hackers have been griefing Red Dead Online players. Some have had their characters burnt alive, while others have been framed for murders they didn’t commit. Reddit is also stuffed with oddities such as one player being turned into a moving ball of animal carcasses – think Katamari Damacy meets Dark Souls. More recent exploits have revolved around money.
Last month a forum post went up warning players that modders can now drain their in-game cash. Several players I spoke to explain that the reported exploit works by increasing the frequency of your camp upkeep fee from every hour to every second. As you can see in the video below from Zerdical, the fee on the mid-right keeps ticking up.
Red Dead Online has two forms of currency, though – cash, which is earned in-game, and gold bars that can be bought for real money. I ask Zerdical if the exploit could be used to drain gold as well as your in-game money. “Only cash that you have earned,” they explain. “What these modders have done is loop your in-game daily fees, which only takes away cash. I can’t say for certain, but from my knowledge of Red Dead Online gold cannot be drained.”
While players don’t currently stand to lose real money, they can still be robbed of the time they’ve invested in Red Dead Online. “This only happened to me that one time I filmed it but the possibility is still there and dangerous nonetheless,” Zerdical tells me. “I lost about $5 [in-game] because I quit right away, but what if someone is AFK while the game is loading and this happens? They could lose thousands.”
Zerdical’s experience runs consistently with another Red Dead Online player I spoke to. FuturePastNow tells me that they also quickly left the lobby to avoid being drained of a lot of cash. One player, however, wasn’t so lucky and claims it only took them 25 minutes to lose $550 of in-game currency following a confrontation with a hacker.
Worse, it’s almost impossible to catch or report anyone cheating in this way. “It’s difficult to report modders because it’s often impossible to know which person in the session is doing it – they can disguise their name or ’frame’ other players,” FuturePastNow says. “So if something like this is happening, you’ve got to leave that session.”
It's difficult to report modders because it's often impossible to know [who] in the session is doing it
This wouldn’t be the first time that a player has had their money drained while playing one of Rockstar’s games. The first exploit to take players’ money in GTA Online was an exploit called Insurance Fraud, which worked by framing you for the destruction of someone else’s vehicle and forcing you to pay the insurance. As reported by Kotaku, that then gave way to another exploit that achieved the same effect by fooling the game into thinking that you’ve killed someone in passive mode, forcing you to pay their hospital bill. Players have a bit more protection in Red Dead Online as the current exploit only affects the cash they earned, whereas GTA Online players stood to lose money they had paid for out of their own, real-world pocket.
What weaves all these exploits together is the mod menus they come with. Downloading a mod menu lets you access a slew of cheats and hacks at a moment’s notice. A quick search on YouTube for GTA Online or Red Dead Online mod menus yields pages of results as it’s a popular way for mod menu creators to advertise them. While many have been taken down recently, they are swiftly resurfacing. Some mod menus are available for free, while others require payment – I had a look and found prices ranging from $15 to $20 (approximately £11.50 to £15.40). Some mod menus, however, are kept private for personal use.
I spoke to YouTuber GeauxBurns about the money draining exploit, who put one of my questions about how it worked to a former GTA modder, who explains a cheater who uses it won’t see a buck of your stolen money. “The mod menu just activates the script of the daily fee several times to others and takes the money from them while not benefiting anyone,” the former modder says. “This type of menu [the one seen in Red Dead Online] has the same behaviour and even features of the ones on GTA Online since the engine is the same.”
While the exploit is troublesome, it hasn’t spread just yet. I spoke to a veteran GTA and Red Dead Online data miner called TezFunz2, who explains that money draining is still rare as it’s not obtainable on a publicly available mod menu. I also searched through free and paid mod menus on a popular cheating forum and on YouTube, and couldn’t find one that had the mod available.
This could, however, be set to change. Tez points me to a certain type of file currently circulating on a cheaters’ forum. The file lays out the programming behind GTA and Red Dead Online, making it readable and understandable for modders. “The cheaters now have access to the scripts to figure out almost everything about how things work,” Tez tells me. “It’s possible an experienced cheater has dug into those scripts to find out how to drain money from people’s accounts. Eventually, they found out how to drain money from others through exploiting the camp fee.
“The fact this cheater managed to do such a thing could mean others may figure out the same method. It’s only a matter of time. A similar money-drain exploit was there in GTA Online where cheaters would drain your money by exploiting the hospital bill. Those cheaters wouldn’t have been aware of such an exploit if it wasn’t for [those files] giving them everything they need to abuse.”
I reached out to Rockstar for comment and to see if this was something the developer was aware of; it did not respond. That said, the company appears to be taking action. Tez tells me that a myriad of mod menu users reported being caught by Rockstar’s anti-cheat on January 14 between 10 to 20 minutes of being on Red Dead Online. One of the hacking forums I looked at has a pinned thread where users also share if they’ve been banned, and the mod menu they were using. As Tez says, there’s a notable uptick in players reporting bans on January 14.
The anti-cheat system is good, but it can be better
I asked Tez and several other players what they thought about the state of Red Dead Online right now. While plenty are frustrated at being targeted by hackers, others say that Rockstar’s anti-cheat has come on in leaps and bounds since GTA Online. The problem remains, however, that it may only take seconds for a hacker to do irreparable damage. “The anti-cheat system does a great job at detecting the cheaters and banning them right away,” Tez says. “But it doesn’t stop the cheater from messing with your account by draining your money or making you look like the cheater. The anti-cheat system is good, but it can be better.”
Red Dead Online is also open to other hustles and schemes from Los Santos. I was looking through a cheating forum and came across a Red Dead Online mod menu seller who claims to be the creator of GTA Online’s Insurance Fraud exploit. They swiftly tell me that the Red Dead Online camp fee exploit isn’t one of theirs, and distance themselves from the idea that it’s related to their GTA Online insurance fraud cheat. In doing so, they admit to trying to recreate the insurance fraud exploit in Red Dead Online.
“My GTA V insurance fraud worked by spawning an insured vehicle and then creating an owned explosion for whatever player you were targeting,” the modder explains. “The trick was not to create the explosion exactly on the vehicle coordinates, but slightly next to it, so the radius of the explosion would destroy the vehicle. I tried this with horses, explosions, and owned bullets in RDR2, but it didn’t work.”
Do mod menus that permanently affect players by taking their money take things a step too far? “Well, it’s not like you’re adding anything to the game,” the modder reasons. “You’re using stuff that’s already there, so if it’s [a problem] it’s a security leak that needs to be addressed. I remember people freaking out when I released my bad sport loop / insurance fraud, but what people don’t realise is that it was possible all along. The only reason it got patched was because it was released [publicly].
“There are many people out there just making menus for themselves that might have found this out sooner and just didn’t share that info with the public. So releasing that stuff is most likely the best thing that can happen for players in general.”
Red Dead Online is now facing another exploit that tested GTA Online, and once again it comes down to money. I ask the mod menu creator how much cash someone could expect to make per month and year by selling them. They tell me that “in theory you could make millions” depending on how much you’re selling. The challenge, however, is that Red Dead Online isn’t as popular as GTA Online.
“I don’t know of any menu, paid or free, with a way to get a gold drop,” they say. “Since GTA has cash drops, people would sooner buy a mod menu on GTA V than on RDR2. I feel modding isn’t accepted as much on RDR2 as it was or is on GTA V – mainly because of cash drops.”
Most Red Dead Online mod menus allow players to farm in-game cash by spawning multiple dead animals they can trade in. The modder tells me that they’ve only made a “couple of hundred euros” in Red Dead Redemption 2, but used to make between $100 to $200 per day selling mod menus in GTA Online. They quit, however, after Rockstar’s parent company Take-Two Interactive started suing mod menu creators.
The game's design in many ways facilitates open-PvP griefing
Not long after I finish speaking to the modder they send me a message telling me they’ve figured out a way to exploit gold drops. A link to a YouTube video is attached, and it advertises the new mod menu by showing the modder spawning in multiple chests. While the modder reached out at the start of last week with the update, it only took them a day to reach out again saying that they found out how to speed things up.
I asked Tez how this may affect Red Dead Online. “It’s a big deal,” the dataminer tells me. “It will allow cheaters to infect other players with gold bars earned through illegal methods. It will allow players to purchase all future roles without having to buy gold bars, which will affect Rockstar’s microtransactions sales, forcing the developer to take action.
“For the players, it might cause the anti-cheat system to track them because of the sudden increase in gold bars, or if some cheater gives you lots of gold bars and you complain to Rockstar, they might not restore the correct amount of gold bars you had before encountering the cheater.”
In the days following the mod menu’s release, the seller writes on Discord that they needed to pull the promotional video off YouTube as “shit is getting out of hand,” and “too many people want to purchase.” They then explain that they “really wanted to keep this thing lowkey and it was blowing up.” While the promotional videos are down, the mod menu is still available.
But where does this leave the players on the other end of these exploits? expressions of powerlessness are common on Reddit, and several Rockstar fans I speak to are keen to share their disappointment. “As a veteran of GTA Online it’s sad to see Rockstar allow many of the same problems,” FuturePastNow tells me. “Cheaters can teleport players around the map against their will, trap them inside locked rooms, and set them on fire.
Pick a role: the best RPG games on PC
“The game’s design in many ways facilitates open-PvP griefing, and this model is utterly broken when the griefers can use god mode and kill [players] from across the map. So even if Rockstar is able to protect players’ in-game money, its disinterest in protecting players from other hostile players is being exploited badly.”
Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 tackle crime, hustling, and hostility in different ways. A faithful recreation of that in the hands of exploit abusers, however, is not the kind of immersion players are looking for when they visit Los Santos or the Wild West.