A group of four armed robbers is believed to have used the Pokémon GO app to track down robbery victims in O'Fallon, Missouri according to a press release on the local police department's Facebook page.
Pokémon GO is an Augmented Reality game by Niantic, Inc. for Android and iOS where players roam around the real world in an attempt to catch wild Pokémon. Certain fixed public locations (such as churches and monuments) serve as either PokéStops or Pokémon Gyms. PokéStops allow players to replenish consumable items such as Pokéballs and Potions, and Pokémon Gyms are territories that can be controlled by one of the three different teams in the game.
The suspects allegedly made use of one of the game's mechanics to track down people playing the game. You cannot see other players located on the map. However, the “Lure” item can be deployed at a PokéStop for 30 minutes to increase the spawn rate of Pokémon in the area. Lures are visible to anyone using the Pokémon GO app within the range of a PokéStop, and it stands to reason that a deployed Lure would mean that at least one person is at that location or very near it.
O'Fallon police stated that they believed the suspects were driving around looking for deployed Lures. They responded to a reported armed robbery at approximately 2:00AM Central Time (UTC-06:00) at the intersection of Highway K and Feise Road in O'Fallon, Missouri.
The four suspects were located in a Black BMW a short time after the reported incident. O'Fallon Police recovered a handgun. No shots were fired according to the police, although a handgun was reportedly used in the incidents. Police have not yet released the names or pictures of the suspects until warrants have been issued. O'Fallon Police expects that warrants will be issued later today.
We've reached out to the O'Fallon Police Department, Niantic Inc., Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company for comment.
Updated: The O'Fallon Police Department has put out another press release detailing the suspects and their charges. Three of the suspects were adults (two 18 years of age and one 17 years of age) and one was a juvenile. The three adult suspects have been charged with Robbery 1st Degree and Armed Criminal Action by the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. Bond has been set at $100,000 cash and the three adult suspects are being transferred to the St. Charles County Department of Corrections. The juvenile suspect has been transferred to the St. Charles County Juvenile Justice Center.
Update #2: The Pokémon Company and Niantic, Inc. have responded to our request for comment with the following statement:
"We are aware that some incidents have occurred involving fans playing Pokémon GO. We encourage all people playing Pokémon GO to be aware of their surroundings and to play with friends when going to new or unfamiliar places. Please remember to be safe and alert at all times. We are humbled by the overwhelmingly positive response to Pokémon GO and greatly appreciate the support of our fans."
Every time Pokémon GO starts up the app warns you to be wary of your surroundings. I had jokingly wondered about a group of people running around like Team Rocket, but I never considered the possibility that someone might use the Lure Module mechanics to look for people in vulnerable situations. Be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and avoid going out alone late at night where possible. Have fun, but don't compromise your safety!
Have you been playing Pokémon GO? What do you think of the alleged armed robbers using the app to track down potential victims? Have you encountered any trouble or incidents while playing the game? Let us know in the comments below!