Money Laundering: Not Just For The Mob Any More!

There’s a fair chance that, if you’re a gamer, you’ve tried a MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game). If it wasn’t EverQuest or Dark Age of Camelot, then it was definitely Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft or Second Life. When these games came out, we all saw a unique opportunity to play as someone, or something, else and to escape the real world for a while. However, one man’s escape is another man’s profit center.

Online gaming is starting to grow up some, and with growth comes some unsavory side-effects. The MMO world has its very own set of unique problems that don’t really effect other games, such as hacking, constant content production and server maintenance. Those problems directly interfere with other people’s enjoyment of the game, but they aren’t the only problems out there.

There’s also the gray areas that may or may not impact anyone’s enjoyment of a game, but pose a problem for the game designer: gold farming and character or item eBay auctions. These also provide a serious problem because of the way the online worlds are structured. Depending on how much stock the designers have put into having a world that relies on players to fuel its economy, gold farming and auctions can cause quite a few balance problems. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Recently, it appears that less than reputable organizations have taken notice of online games as well, and are working on way to exploit them to their advantage. You see, since the market is in place for people to buy and sell items via sites like eBay, or any of the other sites that specialize in game currency and items, it’s now possible to funnel dirty money into a game and have it come out clean on the other side. In a recent article on World-Check, Kenneth Rijock had this to say about online money laundering:

“Unfortunately, some of these games allow one to convert real dollar deposits to virtual dollars, and back to real dollars at a fixed exchange rate of, for example, ten to one, and to withdraw those funds, using many of the automated teller machine services available globally. Players are given an ATM card,(in essence a reloadable debit card) by the game manager and pays regular service charges on the same to the operator of the virtual reality website.”

“This is now a potential money laundering problem, as one can set up an account, send in identification, such as a bogus drivers’ license and altered utility receipts, fund the account with the proceeds of crime, and have an associate on the other side of the world withdraw funds as profits, or even as working capital for a criminal enterprise. One even has the option of withdrawing the funds from a financial institution. This is playing with fire.”

Rijock is speaking directly of Second Life, but there are definitely opportunities available in other games as well. So, it comes down to a tough question: do we allow people to do this or do we want law enforcement to step in? Of course, law enforcement WILL step in eventually, but what happens to the things we actually like about games that may become regulated? It’s a rather sticky situation. We may be living in the “good old days” right now, let’s try to enjoy them while they last.