Not long ago Blizzard Entertainment brought down the ban hammer on thousands of their ‘World of Warcraft’ players for using bots, so it isn’t surprising to hear that the company is very much against cheating. But sometimes banning players isn’t enough – Fusion reported in an article the details about two men who plead guilty last year on charges of robbing ‘Diablo III’ players of their valuable in-game goods back in 2012, thus prosecuted with real life criminal charges for their virtual crimes.
Back in the summer of 2012, Patrick Nepomuceno of California and Michael Stinger of Maryland worked together to steal armor, weapons, and gold from other players to be, at the time, sold for real money via the ‘Diablo III’ Auction House, which has since been shut down. Court documents claim that the pair stole $8,000 worth of items and gold.
Here’s how they did it: Nepomuceno bought a RAT, a ‘remote access tool’, which can take over computers remotely. Nepomuceno would send players a link to a photo claiming to be a rare item, which would download the RAT into their computers if players clicked on it. Once the RAT was downloaded Nepomuceno would take over their characters and force them to drop all of their gold, armor, and weapons, so Stinger could run in and collect the goods. They did this for 2-3 months in the summer of 2012.
Stinger claims that he originally didn’t know how Nepomuceno was able to do this and assumed he was taking advantage of a glitch, but once he was aware that Nepomuceno was using a RAT he stopped. Stinger explained: “I didn’t really care, lol. I was getting free stuff. I was not driven for the money. I simply wanted to get better gear for my character: good weapons and armor.” Nepomuceno declined to be interviewed.
Just a few months later, on December 10th 2012, Stinger says that FBI agents stormed into his house and seized his computer equipment, accusing him of felony level crimes.
Besides the initial shock of the ‘muggings,’ in the end the experience wasn’t too bad for the victims (which the court documents claim was anywhere between 20-30 players) who were simply given back their lost items and gold by Blizzard. “Blizzard gave the victims the goods back,” said Tracy Wilkison, the federal prosecutor. “That made the loss calculation difficult because the victims were reimbursed. So instead we calculated the [perpetrators’] gain.”
Because the total of goods stolen is over $8,000 the crime is considered a felony, but Stinger claims that he was banned before he could sell any of the items and made nothing off of his crimes. Still, Stinger and Nepomuceno pled guilty to a misdemeanor for “unauthorized impairment of a protected computer.”
One of the main issues with the crime was the very use of the RAT. “Most people use it to steal passwords and bank accounts, but these guys were going after video game goods,” Wilkison said. Even if in the end it was just used to take virtual, easily replaceable items, the very use of the RAT was dangerous alone.
Both men were given probation (three years for Stinger, two for Nepomuceno) and have to reimburse Blizzard for the money spent investigating the case, which totals to $5,654.61. Stinger claims to be paying Blizzard back in installments of $100 per month.