Can You Be Charged With Virtual Theft?

Interesting story out of the UK this week about an Australian who pillaged a virtual bank that is part of an online game.

“Richard”, a 27-year-old Aussie, was the CEO of Ebank, a banking corporation in the online trading game, Eve Online, which includes people being able to use real money to purchase credits – for example, you might be able to buy $100,000 worth of credit in the online world for $10 of real money. In the real world, “Richard” was a bit cash-strapped, so having the keys to the virtual vault he withdrew about 200 billion worth of credit and sold it to players for about AU$6,500, which he used to pay some personal debts.

Nobody was hurt in the real world – as it appears the people who bought the virtual credit were allowed to keep it and therefore were allowed to use it in the game.

What is interesting though is, what would have been the result if the people who own/run the game had confiscated the online credit. Not only would the gamers have been out of pocket online, they would have been in the real world, too. Could “Richard” have been charged with theft? I reckon so. And it would not have been a laughing matter for those who had lost the money. It also brings up the question of security and who to put in charge of online transactions. It certainly would have breached the trust aspect of the game.

“Richard” was kicked out of the game and is no longer part of its set up.
Ironically, the game is run by an Icelandic company, whose country is almost bankrupt thanks to bad investments and the Global Financial Crisis. If only sacking a CEO in real life would end such a crisis, how much better off everybody would be.