CNET contributor Joseph Hanlon noticed odd activity on his PayPal account recently. After doing some research, he realized that someone had used his identity to purchase gold from players of Blizzard's most recent game. He or she spared no expense: billions in virtual currency were traded for thousands of real Australian dollars. What's more, the people who got duped in this sting weren't ordinary players; they were also scammers using bots to farm virtual gold—and had no valid means of remuneration through Blizzard. Hanlon has posted an exposé on these virtual con artists and "botters" in games like Diablo III. This gets weird.
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When you think about it, it is sort of like money laundering; the dirty money is cleaned through the process of buying and then re-selling virtual currency. Except that my money has never really been taken — it hangs in an electronic limbo until I can sort out the mess with PayPal and have it returned. In the meantime, the thief can successfully trade with the gold farmers and make off with the loot. I'm severely inconvenienced, PayPal has to field extra work investigating the claim and the gold farmers lose days worth of exploited game gold. The thief, on the other hand, makes off with several thousand dollars in cash and disappears into the ones-and-zeros.
It's hardly the first time someone has abagnaled players and made off with their money—real or virtual. Eve Online is notorious for the Hollywood-scale cons its players pull on one another. In 2009, one player stole 200 billion kredits from a bank within the game and used the money to pay his medical bills. The Diablo III case is more alarming, though, because the scammer is committing real fraud by hijacking the PayPal accounts of absent-minded bystanders.