5 Real Life Crimes Stemming From Virtual Worlds

Bizarre, Crime, Technology

Murder. Assault. Fraud. The cyber world has its share of illegal activity, most in the form of spam and phishing schemes.

The law is evolving to find way to deal with these virtual crimes, but some serious transgressions are not just planned using online resources; some criminals have been motivated by their cyber activities to commit a crime in the first place.

Is a crime any less serious because it germinates on the Internet? Are  law enforcement officials equipped to deal with the still-unusual nature of some of these crimes? Read on to discover the most shocking crimes committed online, or instigated by online activity.

1) Imaginary theft — real murder

Killers who meet their victims online are regularly sensationalized in the media — the Craigslist killer is a case in point. In most of these cases, the internet provides only the means, not the motive for the murder. But in 2005 in Shanghai, China, gamer Qiu Chengwei stabbed and killed another man, Zhu Caoyuan, because Zhu had sold property Qiu had lent to him.

Zhu sold Qiu’s “dragon saber” on eBay for 7,200 yuan — about $900 — and said he was frustrated because the police would not help him. The sword Zhu sold existed only in the world of Legends of Mir 3, an online fantasy game, and Chinese law did not cover virtual theft. The police told Qiu the weapon was not real property and therefore they could not charge Zhu with theft. Zhu offered to reimburse Qiu, but Qiu apparently lost patience with the dispute and attacked Zhu instead. He is currently serving life in prison.

2) Farming for Gold

Players of Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs), such as World of Warcraft and Diablo,  invest huge amounts of time into their in-game personas and equipment, which has created a lucrative market for people willing to perform repetative, time consuming tasks on behalf of players. This has given rise to gaming sweatshops, primarily in China, where workers are paid pennies to play MMORPGs for 12- to 18 hours at a time, performing mind-numbing work to earn experience points or in-game currency. Characters or items are then offered for sale on online auction sites. Trading like this breaks the end-user license agreements players agree to, and gaming sweat shops could violate local labor laws, but catching all the violators is practically impossible.

3) The Dating Game

In Taiwan’s biggest Internet fraud to date, Chuang Shih-chung was arrested in 2009 for bilking over $6.25 million from more than 50 women.  He met all the women through online dating sites, where he claimed to be employed by a Malaysian investment firm. Chuang never met any of these women in person and instead developed trusted relationships with them completely online.  Despite never seeing these women in person, he somehow convinced them to send him money for “international stock purchases.”

4) Suicide Pact

In 2005 in Japan at least 91 people killed themselves after arranging suicide pacts online. However the popularity of these suicide websites made it easy for one murderer to find victims.

In 2007 Hiroshi Maeue was convicted of choking to death three people he’d met through these Japanese sites, posing as someone wanting to meet other people with suicidal tendencies.  Hiroshi had been convicted and served jail time for previously for trying to choke coworkers and even a school boy.  Apparently he figured the only way he could get away with choking people in the real world was by meeting them in virtual worlds first, or maybe in his twisted mind he thought it wasn’t murder because they had already agreed to suicide.

5) Jealousy

In the spring of 2005, 45-year-old Thomas Montgomery of New York created an online persona for a gaming site, an 18-year-old Marine named “Tommy.”  Tommy started chatting with a 17-year-old from West Virginia named “Jessi.” Tommy quickly moved beyond infatuated to obsessed, telling co-workers about Jessi and making plans to leave his wife. But Tommy’s wife found out about Jessi and wrote her a letter exposing Tommy’s age and real identity.

Jessi wasn’t sure whom to believe, so she found Brian, a 22-year-old co-worker of Tommy’s online, who confirmed Tommy’s wife’s information. Brian and Jessi struck up an online relationship, and taunted Tommy in chat rooms, calling him a child predator. For the next several months Jessi flirted with both men online and Tommy became even more obsessed. His jealousy spiraled out of control in September 2006, when he shot and killed Brian (his coworker) in the parking lot of their workplace. When police in West Virginia went to Jessi’s residence to inform her, they found Mary, a 45-year-old married mother of two. Jessi was her daughter, whose online identity Mary had been using the entire time.