Virtual World, Real Prison
If you and a friend were to walk into a furniture store this morning and each grab one end of a $2,000 leather couch you'd be arrested almost immediately. Let's face it, stealing furniture isn't the 'swiftest' move, nor is it the work of a criminal mastermind. But, what if you were to do it in the 'virtual' world?
It seems that might have the same consequences.
According to some stunning reports, a Dutch teen who stole about 4,000 euros worth of virtual furniture from the Habbo Hotel lobby has recently been sentenced to time in a real-world prison. Funny thing is, there's nothing real about the Habbo Hotel -- it's merely the plaything of a social networking site designed specifically for teenagers. (Source: guardian.co.uk)
The 17-year old recently sentenced is not the first to be questioned by real-life police, either. According to some reports, a total of five other teens, all listed as 15 years old, have also been interrogated on the issue.
The name of the virtual world in question is in fact Habbo Hotel, a game played by some six million users across thirty countries. The company that runs it, Sulake, contacted police once it noticed the furniture went missing. Like Second Life, The Sims, or perhaps even World of Warcraft, a virtual economy and a plethora of customization options exist for the user to tinker with their environment.
Although forum boards are lighting up with accusations that this story must be a joke, there are elements that suggest the behaviour of these teens demands some discipline. According to a Sulake spokesperson, "It is a theft because the furniture is paid for with real money. But the only way to be a thief in Habbo is to get people's usernames and passwords and then log in and take the furniture. We got involved because of an increasing number of sites which are pretending to be Habbo. People might then try and log in and get their details stolen." (Source: gamespot.com)
In other words, these teens engaged in a phishing scam in order to get the account, and then went for what might be considered a virtual joyride before being busted.
Game or not, the story is evidence that phishing -- in just about any form -- is not a joke for the authorities.