Computer Crime Research Center


Is a Virtual Bank Robbery a Real-World Crime?

Date: January 01, 2008
Source: Computer Crime Research Center

In answering the question whether virtual bank robbery is a real-world crime, the first important point is that it should be. Linden dollars can be converted into real dollars; people buy and sell Linden dollars both inside and outside Second Life. Like frequent flier miles or rewards points, Linden dollars can be used to acquire other property and can even be converted into U.S. dollars. Moreover, even if unconverted, Linden dollars can be used to acquire additional property within Second Life - and to obtain more recreation, which also has value. Finally, though the amount at issue here was modest, there are stock exchanges in Second Life as well - what if future thefts deprive citizens of millions, rather than thousands, of dollars?

At present, however, a virtual bank robbery would not qualify as a real bank robbery under the relevant federal law. Under this statute, a bank is defined as any member bank of the Federal Reserve System, or any other banking association, trust company, or savings bank operating under the laws of the United States. Second Life's bank would not qualify. Unlike online banks (or online operations or branches of real-world banks), virtual banks within a game are not banks for the purposes of US law. They are not licensed, supervised, or regulated by any banking regulator.

However, due to the hacking and theft that was involved, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act may apply, for it includes a prohibition against knowingly, and with intent to defraud, accessing a protected computer, without authorization and by means of such conduct, furthering the intended fraud and obtaining anything of value. Hacking is accessing a protected computer, and as noted above, Linden dollars have value.

In sum, then, under federal law as it currently stands, what happened on Second Life may be categorized and punished as computer crime, but not also bank robbery.

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