The Escapist Presents: Money Laundering In-Game

Money Laundering In-Game

Greg Boyd explains at TGC 2010, how real money trade in video games could be potentially used for criminal money laundering.

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So what's the solution? Requiring a personal mailing address to receive the cheque? Not allowing cash-out to real money at all?

But maybe some people would still kill for a top-tier armour set or whatever...

While this sounds interesting, I have my doubts about it. Mostly, I'm not sure how traceable PayPal transactions are. Since an online game is being used as an intermediary, I'm going to assume that they are traceable (otherwise there would be no need to use the game). However, transactions in online games are also traceable. Blizzard keeps extensive track of all transactions in WoW and I assume other online games do the same. Furthermore, not all games have a readily available cash-out option (in fact, most don't) and selling gold on your own isn't likely something the Hitman is likely to bother with.

So, we first need a game that has a cash-out option. We also need that game to NOT keep track of player transactions. Only then can the money trail be broken. And EVEN THEN it's not all clean! Since we can still probably trace the cash-out he recieved to the game, we just examine the amount and see if any people connected to the victim put money into that same game.

Unless I'm missing some big part of this, the only advantage to laundering money through Online Games is that nobody would think to look there, or have a solid idea on how to go about it. Beyond that, the money trail is likely not that hard to follow since I'm guessing game companies aren't as secretive about their data as Cayman Island banks are... ;)

I'm still curious as to how exactly this works. I mean I know with WoW and some other MMOs you can't buy/sell gold without going through a 3rd party group. And even then it works more like a currency exchange, you pay more for buying the in game money and get less when you try to sell it back. Even then, the amount something like a hit would cost would be worth a huge amount of in game cash, and I doubt any one would want to buy/sell to you for that much because it would be easily flagged by the company running the MMO and that would put the person buying the gold from you at a risk. Even games that allow trading, I think they'd be really suspicious of 2 random lowbies trading huge amounts of in game currency and items.
Even then a lot of places that sell/buy game currencies require verified paypals which would make it all traceable.

So on what platform is this Hitman Bobby game coming out?
Sounds like an interesting game for my Italian friends.

It reminds me of the way they do it in the betting industry, exactly the same in fact.

Its scary how much can be accumulated and then how it can be used to hurt people. There really needs to be a regulator set up to police the micro-transactions and what not that goes on with MMO's and the such.

As, its only going to get larger, and with that, more money to go through

simple solution. Money buys gold. gold can never buy money.

or like EVE you sell time cards u buy with money for in game currency or vice versa but you always have to have spent that money/currency on an in game item.

He seems a little too happy about how easy it is for people to commit crimes.

Ah this was that thing that someone (Susan I think) wrote about a few days ago right?
It is an interesting thought and you've got to wonder if criminals already do that and how often if so.

blanksmyname:
He seems a little too happy about how easy it is for people to commit crimes.

Yeah glad im not the only person who spotted that XD.

DTWolfwood:
simple solution. Money buys gold. gold can never buy money.

Well, if someone is selling gold (or whatever in game money you choose) the they are getting money from there gold, or buying money with gold if you will.

So for example someone buy $500 worth of gold from some gold selling site, gives it to another guy, and that guy sells it to someone else for $500. Thus that money transferred "through the game" with no traceable trail.

Now I understand how World of Warcraft is so famous. The Mob!
It also explains why my dear Tabula Rasa bit the dust. The Mob hates SF..., or Lord/General British.

Eric the Orange:

DTWolfwood:
simple solution. Money buys gold. gold can never buy money.

Well, if someone is selling gold (or whatever in game money you choose) the they are getting money from there gold, or buying money with gold if you will.

So for example someone buy $500 worth of gold from some gold selling site, gives it to another guy, and that guy sells it to someone else for $500. Thus that money transferred "through the game" with no traceable trail.

yes paying with money to get ingame currency is ez enough. but have u ever saw a gold farmer BUY gold for real money? the fact your offering gold for money that isnt tied to something u bought with money ingame is suspicious. not to mention what kind of crime would it be to require the end user (in this case Hitman) to go thru all that work to get paid.

just keep an eye out for farmers that offer money for ingame gold. when that happens u know there is something illicit about that. unless of course your Hitman is also a gold farmer than i can see you buying "enough" gold for a hit XD

the criminals would have to be the gold farmers for this laundering scheme to work.

Planet Calypso allows players to take money out of the game. Unfortunately you need to use your own bank account to withdraw funds.

Pay pal... A giant leap forward in criminal activity.

What mysterious mmo offers a cash-out option in the US? I wouldn't have to work if WoW did, thats for damn sure.

Oh, the mysteries of having to cash out. I can tell you right now, and I'm no criminal mastermind, that I could cash out of any MMO out there, provided that they have gold farmers. There would be a loss incurred of course, but that doesn't affect me (assuming I am the hitman of this guy's example) as much as it affect the person paying for my services.

Lets take WoW for example. Bobby's fee for killing Charles is $5000. The day that the transaction occurs, IGE is buying gold at $50 for every 1000 gold. To properly pay Charles, Ann must buy 10 000 gold using the methods described in the video. Lets say the rate at which IGE sells gold is $115 per 1000 gold. It will cost Ann $11 500 to buy the gold needed to pay Bobby (excluding fees, cost of a regular account, setting up PayPal, etc.) So despite WoW not having a cashout option, I can pay my hitman to take out a person, wherever there's an internet connection.

Sure, setting up an account requires an address and so forth, but those are really easy to fake. I mean, have you ever had a Blizzard Rep come to your door asking if you actually did live at the address you listed on your account?

Nearly all MMO's that do cash out options. Mainly because they are about making money and supporting themselves. If they paid people for stuff they could earn in game then there would be a ton of hard core players working it as full time jobs legally.

The only one I really know of that has that kind of option is Second Life. Even then I'm not sure how easy it is to "cash out". I've never played it but I know there are a ton of people that run stores in it and even heard of people who work at those stores as full time jobs getting paid real money.

But yea as others have pointed out a lot of MMO's like WoW have highly developed transaction tracking systems. This is already in part to counter criminal activity in the game. People using scams, bug exploits, Gold Farming, and etc. Plus there is also the security and backup issues should the system be compromised. Not to mention if the game does allow people to cash out you gotta be sure those developers wanna protect their investment really good since in a way it's their own money floating around in there.

on small click for man, one giant leap for the criminal networks

Jaredin:
It reminds me of the way they do it in the betting industry, exactly the same in fact.

Its scary how much can be accumulated and then how it can be used to hurt people. There really needs to be a regulator set up to police the micro-transactions and what not that goes on with MMO's and the such.

As, its only going to get larger, and with that, more money to go through

Why would you EVER have police monitoring something BEFORE it becomes a liable pool for crime. Just because something could happen doesn't mean it will. And then logistics for this scheme are so illogical that it's not even worth worrying about. Most games don't allow you to hold enough in-game gold to translate to the price of a killing!

You also have to find a reliable buyer of said gold. Which is a huge variable in this equation that you left out.

You could also use an online gaming world to communicate with your handler in a clandestine op. Or to plan and manage terrorist plots. The potential is great

Seems paypal is more to blame here than game developers... although I can say I have seen women with no gaming skill sleep with a GM for a prime raiding spot so real-life prostitution is alive and well on games.

Funny and interesting video. Almost definitely not optimal unless there is no regulation and developers intend this to happen and not be liable for taking cut? I guess that is what all those huge spending sprees in MMOs you hear in news are all about. Still, there are probably better ways.

 

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