Massive systemic abuse discovered in St. Cloud, Florida - Over 300 fake/abusive portals documented.
Over the past several days, a situation has come to light in St. Cloud, Florida, where myself and some others have identified a total of over 300 abusive portals, with likely more that we did not find or have not found yet.
The abuse appears to be highly coordinated, and seems to encompass a mix of fake/duplicate portals (often located on PRP), portal location edit abuse (likely from before the changes last summer), egregious S2 cell abuse, as well as what appears to be a continued coordinated effort by local reviewers to move pins away from their actual/submitted locations during the review process. I have included a Google Doc at the end of this post with the Intel links for all 307 identified portals, but I have a few anecdotes and extra pieces of evidence that I would like to show as well.
Yesterday while wrapping up my research I noticed within comms on the Intel map that an Ingress player recently openly admitted in ENL chat to “putting the portals in their favor”, “arranging the area”, and having a Discord server for others to do the same. This might be a weird way of just talking about capturing and fielding, but its highly suspect. Screenshot below: (EDIT: Agent names removed)
Within a Facebook group for Pokemon GO players for this area, an admin cautioned players from doing AR Mapping tasks in a post back in October, for fear that they could “lose everything that they have built up”. Screenshot below:
While this unfounded rumor that Pokestop scans lead to removals has been perpetuated by many people, the post carries more weight because I can likely directly implicate the person who posted this as part of the abuse, due to the following reason:
I help run a Wayfarer group that covers a large portion of Florida, and as a result, I have tried to track down as many active submitters/reviewers that I can find to help them do things the right way. About a year ago after noticing an abundance of sub-par submissions coming from St. Cloud, I tracked down several people who were submitting in that area, finding the exact people who are now involved in the above facebook post. When I found them, they were new to submitting and needed help. We did help them improve significantly, and since then I have proofread and reviewed hundreds of submissions coming from this area. I did not see anything that I felt to be abusive, although apparently I do not live close enough to review their location edits.
Several months ago, a downward shift occurred in the quality of many of their submissions, specifically within the titles of wayspots being submitted. Titles started to become extremely generic, such as “Neighborhood Playground”, “Community Board”, or “Tennis Court”, as opposed to something more specific such as “Amberly Pines Tennis Court”. As it now turns out, a significant portion of the discovered abusive wayspots have this style of generic titles, and I suspect the generic titles were used to help legitimize the portals after they were moved during the review phase. I have reviewed some of these, and the suggested location appeared to be in their correct locations when I reviewed them, leading me to believe they were moved during review.
In addition to the above, the same person has also indicated previously that they have a “voting block” that is within St. Cloud. While it was previously presented to my community as something that encouraged legitimacy, the newly found abuse shows this is likely no longer the case, and that at minimum, some sort of collusion likely exists. Screenshot below:
And now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for, the 300+ fake portals. The Google doc below contains the title and intel link for all the portals that were discovered and suspected of abuse. Some portals also have an additional note alongside them. Some cases of abuse are more clear-cut abuse than others (such as portals for a boat ramp and baseball field in someone’s driveway). Many of the abusive portals use the same pictures and similar/exact titles and there were some photos that were used around 5 or 6 times, possibly even more. It is a mix of portals that were outright faked/duplicated and portals that were presumably moved away from their actual location.
Note: There are a very small number of portals on this list (maybe like 5) that may have previously existed at their current/submitted locations, but no longer appear to. While this would not be abuse if the portal truly did previously exist, I still documented these when they were in close proximity to other clearly abusive portals, as no longer existing is at minimum still grounds for removal.
And before someone asks, no, I have not reported these to the abuse form. If one of you would like to fill out the form 307 times, be my guest.
To my friends from St. Cloud: I am sure this will hurt you, your community, and innocent players who had nothing to do with the abuse, and I am sorry for that. This is not personal and it frankly sucks to have to report this - but I really can’t ignore it. I hope you will understand. I know that you only wanted more opportunities to play a game you love, but this was not the way to go about it.
To Niantic: It is honestly frustrating that this abuse was enabled to go so far. The current implementation of the S2 cell system is overall bad for players and leads to this abuse. You have a better system within Harry Potter that allows for more POI while still accommodating overworld spawns - please use it! While the changes you made to portal location edits over the summer does prevent some abuse, it clearly did not stop it, nor did it do anything to solve the most common cause of abuse - the S2 cell system itself. This will continue to happen for as long as it is easier to fake a few hundred community board portals than it is to get a single legitimate local hotspot approved. While I understand that people will likely always try to get themselves a couch portal of their own, most abuse is the result of systemic problems that are hard to blame on people who only want to play your game more and thus give you more money. Educational problems need to be addressed for both reviewers and submitters, as if it was easier for people to get more legitimate POIs, it would be far less incentivized for people to abuse the system. If you need help with this undertaking, and it seems like you do, I am available for hire (and I do mean that). You have my gmail and location data, you know where to find me ;)
To anyone who read this entire post, thank you. Please enjoy my favorite portal I found during all of this: "Duel Lion Faces Flower Pot on Residential Property"
@NianticCasey-ING Please escalate this to the Abuse Team
Thanks for flagging @AisforAndis-ING, I've sent this to the team for review and action. We'll be sure to follow-up here.
I also hear you on the abuse front, this is definitely something that the team is aware of and considering how to handle at the macro level. Discussions are still ongoing about what the Wayfarer roadmap looks like for 2021 and I'm hopeful that some of the changes planned will address both the education issue and the issues surrounding Wayspot crowding.
This particular example goes far beyond lack of education or crowding. There are dozens of waypoints in this list which are clear fakes, the photo is from somewhere very clearly not at the location and additionally there are multiple waypoints having the same fake photo. I hope you or whoever investigates that haven't and won't miss this fact but I just want to point it out to be clear. Those involved should permanently lose access to the system.
@NianticCasey-ING I am glad to hear that the Wayfarer team is looking at this from a systemic perspective rather than the reactive one that we have been seeing.
This is a group abuse effort that highlights weaknesses in the reviewing system and should be dealt with accordingly. This is not just miseducation on either side however I do think there should be an increase in education for both reviewers and nominators alike. 300+ faked nominations is absolutely ridiculous and I am hoping that this blatant disregard for rules will be punished.
The education portion is absolutely systemic. My point was that it was easier for this group of people to fill out their area with hundreds of fake generic pokestops, rather than finding and submitting actually interesting places. There are so many things that can be valid submissions, but wayfarer is inundated with playgrounds, pavilions, sports courts, and bulletin boards. Many people look at those candidates like automatic acceptances, and while they generally are, that's exactly the problem. That itself may be part of how they got this accepted. There are many things out there that are just as viable as playgrounds, but because something like a local hotspot is less common and more unique, reviewers are less accustomed to them, leading to them being judged more harshly and/or them not being judged according to the guidelines at all. It makes it more difficult to get a legitimate submission accepted, and makes it comparatively easier to pass a fake through the system. That is an education problem.
Let's not forget that every honest reviewer who correctly reviewed these as fake has been penalised for not agreeing with the cheaters.
Hey @NianticCasey-ING I just wanted to follow up on this with some troubling news.
While I have noticed the abuse team is hard at work removing the original list of portals, the people responsible for this mess have clearly not been reprimanded and they already have begun replacing fake portals that you've removed with new fake portals
For example, we have "Tortoise Education Board". This portal was reviewed by multiple people following this situation, and was submitted in a park in what appeared to be its legitimate location. That location was here:
Please notice that the address (or at least the street) matches the location of this park. The problem is that the portal is now live in-game, in someone's driveway over a mile away:
What's worse is that there was already a cluster of three fake portals at this house that you removed, as well as many others in the same neighborhood. There are additional new fake portals in this neighborhood as well.
Below is a small list of newly identified fake portals. Some of these may be old that we missed in the last sweep, but most of them are definitely new.
Tortoise Education Board
Community Information Board
Community Basketball Court
Narcoossee Community Park Plaque
Neighborhood Swimming Pool
I have also added these portals to the end of my original google doc, but if the abuse team made their own copy of the list, they will need to add those portals to it.
Please punish these players, remove their ability to submit and review, and investigate their entire catalog of nominations. It is absolutely ridiculous that the abuse team has already removed over 100 abusive portals by these people and havent restricted their access to the system yet. It is frankly even more ridiculous that the system allows reviewers to move pins over a mile away from their submitted location. There will never be a situation where such a move isn't abusive. I get needing to move a pin a hundred yards or so for things like sports fields, but just this one example was over a mile away
Thank you for your time.
I'm, impressed with all the work you did, on this, Andis. I don't review as much as I used to, but I used to see A Lot of Saint Cloud nominations tagged "for all to enjoy" in the description or extra information and started reporting it as abuse because it seemed like it was being used as an identifier. I'm also pretty sure you and I were in a different discord with some of these people last year before it blew up over my hard opinions on waypoint eligibility. keep up the awesome work, agent
This is something I have also noticed in my personal experience.
The thing about mass abuse, the abusers have all the tools they need to replace removed wayspots if they don't get banned from Wayfarer by Niantic - since they managed to get them accepted in the first place. And that's exactly what they do after mass removals - in your case and in others.
Kind of sad that this is a recurring thing. I was hoping that it was a one-time thing that only happened with my personal case, and that other cases of mass abuse are taken care of more effectively (bar infamous cases such as Zaragoza). Apparently not...
Another new fake wayspot appeared today next to the "Turtle Education Board" that I reported on yesterday:
This needs to be addressed immediately. The abuse team needs to revoke submission and reviewing privileges from the people involved, otherwise they are wasting their time removing portals that will just be abusively replaced. @NianticCasey-ING
Not pointing fingers but it seems like this is a collective effort with both Ingress and PoGo players. They most likely have the whole PoGo community reviewing now that the level is lowered to 38. And it’s obvious adding the “for all to enjoy” is a tell on who submitted it. Or a code for them to 5 star it. Unfortunately Niantic would have to ban all the Ingress and PoGo players in that area because as they start banning the abusers, they will just get other players to submit. It looks like a huge mess Niantic has to deal with.
Very much agreed about a large amount of reviewers being in on it, and about the code for people to 5 star - it's something that I'm personally familiar with.
Unfortunately it doesn't seem that Niantic are aware of the mass action needed to take care of cases such as this - or are willing to do it.
I don’t think Niantic has the personnel to take on large abuses such as this. It seems like they have a few people working on the wayfarer issues. Looking into hundreds of portals and possibly a hundred or more accounts in the area will be a huge undertaking.
I've mentioned this before, but I think that there's something Niantic could do to combat this sort of localized systemic abuse. I think the whole system would work better if < 50% of the reviewers for a submission came from those whose recent play area, home, or bonus area was near the submission. This would make it much more difficult for local communities to collaborate and control the outcome in their areas because they would become a minority voting bloc.
There may be unintended consequences of this change that I haven't considered, but I suspect it would be a net win.
It doesn't require too many people from Niantic to fix these issues.
They might not able to find out those places by themselves (and I would bet that if they had the will they could also detect most of such locations), but at the very least they should be able to find out who did the nominations, who did the location edits and ban them from wayfarer as well as reviewing carefully all the nominations that they had done and remove all fakes and abuses of the system.
Put those zones under scrutiny from them on to detect new accounts that try to repeat the abuses and ban them swiftly.
The sooner that they prevent the abuse, the less work they'll have later to fix the mess.
Wayfarer is a priviledge, so any abuser should be removed ASAP.
It should be easy to find every nomination which used this code. Just delete those Wayspots and ban those submitting those Wayspots
I don't think they are all using a code. That was just one example
Anothet thing to consider is that there are probably a large amount of alt accounts used here. I find it plausible that the Wayfarer privileges of accounts originally used to do this actually have been revoked, and the abusers simply switched to new(ly purchased) accounts to carry on this operation.
Another set of new / newly discovered fake portals:
Spider Educational Board
Covington Information Board
Seldon Park Rock
Air Force Decorative Bench
World War 1 Memorial
Fish And Turtle Statue
Trail Map Lake Runnymeade Conservation Area
Trailhead Lake Runnymede Conservation Area
Runnymead Trail Footbridge
Footbridge #1 Chisolm Park
Boy and Girl Fishing
Something of note: It appears that in the cleanup of this mess, the abuse team is moving many of these portals back to their actual/submitted locations without taking into account that many of these portals should have been rejected for their close proximity to existing portals. This is resulting in some major portal stacking in some areas, with some cases having as many as 5 or 6 portals directly on top of each other while also being in tight clusters where 10 or more portals are reachable from certain spots. There are also a large number of smaller portal stacks throughout the area, several of which should probably be considered duplicates (such as pavilions and pavilion information signs located under the pavilion).
I'm not sure what should be done about this, or if I should report this in depth as well. It seems in poor taste to reward these abusers with convienient portal stacks that shouldn't exist in the first place.
I've included a few examples below, with screenshots showing the portal proximity range toggled on and off for scale:
Veterans Park area:
Lakefront Park area:
@NianticCasey-ING And this is why it sucks that your forms are ineffective and we have to dox ourselves in here to get anything done.
Looks like you dont want your POIs to get removed. But heeeey you can submit them again and get a nice account ban. Cool, right?
Why are you so toxic? You are the one propably abusing the system. Not him.. Maybe think about creating own POI valid objects like many did. This is a game for fun and not beef. Honestly reporting such abuse it the total right way. Maybe think about it.
The funny thing is, what makes it way to this forum is only a smidge of the love and support we get from our local communities when they find out we've been reporting abuse here.
@LukeAllStars-PGO I'm afraid it's optimistic of you to expect that bans will stop this kind of cases after the abusive wayspots are re-submitted. On this sort of scale, there are surely a lot of accounts involved (multiple secondary accounts or otherwise), and probably some degree of community support/large organized group - which will allow this abuse to continue as long as Niantic keep applying the same lackluster punishments.
I hope Niantic will take notice of the original unedited comment that @SChellShocked01-PGO just made:
Openly admitting to mass abuse and threatening to continue the collective abuse by denying legitimate submissions en masse as retaliation should be reason for an immdiate ban, as if there wasnt enough evidence already. @NianticCasey-ING
This is exactly the tactic my local abuse group is doing, by the way - the mass rejections/reports of legit nominations. And it's working. So I'm really hoping that Niantic will take this threat seriously in this case, because it 100% is something abusers do.
Hello folks! We certainly don't entertain such type of behavior in the Community as a result I have warned the user. Secondly, our dedicated team is currently looking into reports concerning fake Wayspots and we'll follow-up with the news after we hear from them. I appreciate your patience.
I'm glad Niantic is making examples out of extremely toxic players with proven history of abuse by issuing them warnings. I hope it was stern at least.
warned the user? After basically admitting to systematic abuse, and making inappropriate comments and threats? Did you even take a look at their post pre edit?
" as a result I have warned the user"
Homophobic slurs (among other insults and threats) are a cause for a warning, not for a straight ban?
Edit; this thread left a really bad taste. I suppose it's time to log off and reconsider participating on discussions on this forum.