Real Police Cross Over Into Virtual World Again; Arrest Teen For Theft Of Virtual Furniture

from the bad-precedent dept

Just a few weeks ago, we pointed to a lawsuit involving two Second Life users, with one accusing the other of "theft." We pointed out, as we have for quite some time, how problematic it is when real world laws are applied within a virtual world. The point of a virtual world is that anything is possible -- and putting the constraints of the real world on those worlds not only seems counterproductive, but potentially dangerous. That Second Life lawsuit was between two users, but over in the UK, a similar situation has gone even further: involving the police.

The police have arrested a teenager accused of "stealing" virtual furniture from another player in the virtual world Habbo Hotel. Again, it's true that the virtual furniture has real monetary value, but it's the sort of thing that should be taken care of within the framework of Habbo Hotel. The folks who run the world should be able to deal with the situation, as they are the world's de facto government. If you don't think this is a problem that's going to get more and more problematic, then just start to think through the scenarios of what happens next. What happens in an online virtual world where "theft" is designed to be a part of the gameplay? Can players then call the real cops when they lose in the game? That situation may be a bit more black and white, but many of these virtual worlds are designed to be defined by the users. So what if the users decide that "theft" is a part of the gameplay? What if some users decide it is and others don't? Bringing real world laws and real world cops into virtual worlds is guaranteed to cause problems.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    SmellyG, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:28pm

    Oh dear...

    This makes me think twice about using the online multiplayer in GTA:VI...i could get life for that.

     

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  2.  
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    Beefcake, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:31pm

    Gambling Laws

    I'm wondering if it wouldn't then be considered gambling. Engaging in an activity that could cause you to lose actual money based on decisions you make or events of the activity would be gambling, and the U.S. in our glorious and infinite wisdom has decided to impose federal penalties on that.

    Damned if you do, etc.

     

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  3.  
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    sonofdot, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:37pm

    Then don't use real money

    The problem is the introduction of real money to purchase virtual items. If real money is involved, then so are real laws, and ultimately real cops.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:47pm

    "Bringing real world laws and real world cops into virtual worlds is guaranteed to cause problems."

    Um, no, trying to have a life in a virtual reality because you can't cope with real people in real life is guaranteed to cause problems. The way things are going, we're going to end up becoming a society of anemic (or obese), pale-skinned nerds that have no real life, accomplishments, social skills, or real friends to speak of. If it remains an occasional form of entertainment, then no problem is that we are way too willing to embrace something like this as a lifestyle, which I think will prove to be very unhealthy in the long run.

     

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  5.  
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    Duodave, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:58pm

    Disagree here

    I followed the link and read the article. This kid was scammed out of 4,000 euros worth of virtual furniture by someone who was either phishing or registering domain names similar to Habbo Hotel's.

    In the United States, the scammer would have easily been charged with violations of any number of laws, perhaps under the DMCA, for example.

    Absolutely Habbo Hotel did the right thing here by bringing law enforcement into this. If they didn't, at the very least, Habbo Hotel could have been held liable if the scammer was sued. By bringing law enforcement into it, Habbo Hotel covers their liability and creates a legal record that they participated, in good faith, for their customer to recover losses.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 12:58pm

    Re:

    #4, "Um" (who types "um"?) Much the same could be said of people with nothing better to do than post judgmental and prejudicial ramblings onto comment streams anonymously. Now and then it's okay, but if it's a lifestyle, you need help. Same with people who watch "Friends" on television. And people who work long hours. And people who garden. And people who knit. And people who do anything whatsoever.

     

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  7.  
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    SmellyG, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:00pm

    A bit over the top

    There is to sides to this:

    The fact that it is data owned by people, and bought by people. If you take away the idea that its 'furniture' in a 'game', and realise in real life that it is purchased data, then yes, it can be easy to see the police getting involved. The same thing happends if someone removes data off someone elses computer, right?

    However, in the end, its a game, and has no real life implications. In this case, the user that did the stealing can have his/her account taken away, and the bought 'goods' given back to the owner.

    Again, it may not be as simple as just giving the 'goods' back (hard to find the original owners of each item etc), and would be a lot of extra work for the operators of Habbo. It probably is in the best interests of Habbo to crack down hard on these people in order to reduce the number of these instances.

    Which ever way you go on this, Mike is right; how far this could go is kinda scary. The easiest way is to (as sonofdot says) remove the money aspect, unless you can get a compleatly hack-proof system (unlikely).

     

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  8.  
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    Kyros, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:02pm

    Well of course, everything in moderation. This applies to everything, but is inherently irrelevant to the discussion.

    I'm somewhat curious as to what exact law the police are prosecuting for...in the physical world your probably talking about a transfer from lines in a database, is that something you can prosecute for? How much money are we talking about anyways? I mean, since when do the cops care about 5$ in an online game?

    I've never played habbo hotel, so is theft built into the game, or did the guy steal his buddies account?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:04pm

    RTFA Mike.

    "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."

    Which is exactly what they did. They got arrested because they were phishing. The crime occurred outside of the game. Theft was not designed to be part of the gameplay, so all you have here is a strawman.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:09pm

    Habbo Needs to do a better job

    How the hell do you "steal" virtual furniture anyway. It seems to me that it's just code, and a backup copy of that code has to exist somewhere.

     

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  11.  
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    'Um' Typer, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Re:

    Wow! Thank you for your colorful opinions. Don't pretend for a moment that it's any more than one meager person's opinion, because the rest of us know better. Your "facts" are in fact, simply your own myopic thoughts and misplaced prejudices. Perhaps there is a possibility that you might be correct, but it is my opinion that you are most certainly not.

     

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  12.  
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    Shun, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:11pm

    Buying Furniture on-line

    I just don't see why these kids, after buying the first piece of furniture, didn't just clone it and make copies. I mean, if the whole thing is virtual, who's to know? Better than scamming people out of their money, although perhaps, a bit harder.

    Lazy kids. In my day, we scammed "the man". It makes no sense to scam other users. They're just as poor as me, I figure.

    Also, who spends their time and money online? I figured one, OK, since I have time, I'll spend it online. If I need to go out for a bite to eat, well, there goes my money. But both? Man, you're really burning the candle at both ends. Also, where are these kids getting all this money? How do you spend 24 hours playing WoW (I know this is not a WoW article, but all the same, I'd like to know how this is done) and then live life? Seems to boggle the mind, unless all of these folks are trust-fund babies.

    If that's the case, forget it. I don't want your servers or your users. I've got real life to live, and can't be bothered with living entirely in a virtual world (although apparently I can spend quite a significant amount of time on techdirt...)

     

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  13.  
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    bj, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:11pm

    "We pointed out, as we have for quite some time, how problematic it is when real world laws are applied within a virtual world"

    The police being involved has nothing to with laws in a virtual world. Websites were imitating the login of the actual website and stealing identities. This is a real world law, hello???

     

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  14.  
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    zcat, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:11pm

    The crime is 'phishing'

    I know it's funny to make comments about 'theft of virtual furniture', but that's kind of missing the point.

    The real crime here is 'phishing', deceptively obtaining logins and passwords, and then using those details to mess with an online service that someone else paid for. The exact details of what service are not really that important. It could just as easily be iTunes downloads or Windows licences or documents from Pacer. These things all cost real-world money, if I pay for them online and someone else takes them from me that's theft.

     

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  15.  
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    Mike (profile), Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:12pm

    Re:

    Which is exactly what they did. They got arrested because they were phishing. The crime occurred outside of the game. Theft was not designed to be part of the gameplay, so all you have here is a strawman.

    Again it doesn't matter directly if theft is designed into the game or not -- but the fact that it could happen. If the crime is for phishing, then the focus should be on phishing, not on "theft" of furniture. And, again, there doesn't seem to be any reason this can't be taken care of within the virtual world.

     

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  16.  
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    David, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 1:44pm

    Read the article

    Seems like Mike didn't read the article and is spreading bad information.

    This would be on par with phishing for your Amazon.com password, then changing the shipping address to my own for your recent purchases.

    To "real?" Ok, how about if I phish for your iTunes password where you have $100 in credit? I can download $100 worth of music. It's all virtual, right?

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 2:13pm

    Much ado about nothing. That's how I'd characterise pathetic people suing each other over virtual furniture. Have these people lost all sense of reality?

    On the other hand, if this article is really about phishing, then the situation might be different. A real crime has, possibly, been committed. It also says something about the people who are the victims of the scam. Maybe if they spent a little less time in their ridiculous virtual worlds and a little more time out in the real world learning how to take a few basic precautions they might not have fallen for it.

     

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  18.  
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    Jim, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 2:23pm

    The original story suggests something else

    If you follow the link to the original story it's clear that the perpetrators of the crime actually set up a fake site for the purpose of stealing passwords. Police regularly get involved in cases like this, so I'm not convinced this crime and the police response is unusual or noteworthy.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 2:23pm

    I guess we should outlaw first person shooters too, because people are committing murder like crazy online. It should be punished just like real world murder because the situations are exactly the same. (Except for re spawning and the fact that it's not murder, but those are minor details.)

     

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  20.  
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    Matthew, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 2:35pm

    The single most disturbing line is:

    Again, it's true that the virtual furniture has real monetary value

    It is? It's code! It's not even original code. If an admin can't simply ban the idiot being a dork and recall the chair off a tape backup or something this this Hotel has no right to be, either.

     

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  21.  
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    Buzz, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 2:37pm

    wow

    OK, this is just ridiculous. The instant any legal authorities hear about this, they should laugh in the person's face. Since when are crimes committable in a virtual world? If I log into my character and discover my possessions are all taken, the police are the LAST people I complain to. In many games, players often show sympathy (not always) and toss some money/equipment your way. Even then, I usually just take it as a hint to take a break from the game for a while.

     

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  22.  
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    Matthew, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 2:38pm

    Re: The single most disturbing line is:

    Ok, no I didn't RTFA, and now I see what the problem is. Hope they throw several large books at this kid.

    I still can't imagine how anyone would pay real money for virtual items be it Hobbo, WoW, or whatever.

     

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  23.  
    icon
    JS Beckerist (profile), Nov 14th, 2007 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Then don't use real money

    BUT, if you spent money on:
    an infinitely duplicat-able (yes I know it's not a word) good, product or service
    and spend such money in:
    an environment with NO retribution for stealing other peoples said goods, products or services

    then I have 2 and a half words: TOO F***IN BAD

    until the developers decide to PREVENT the goods from being stolen, then don't buy them. period.

    How can police have ANY sort of jurisdiction anyway? I don't get it...do the police LIVE in second life? Is there a court there?

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Tony, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 3:23pm

    Virtual Whores

    So what if a second life character is a virtual call-girl supplying virtual prostitution for real dollars. Does that give the vice-squad of (pick your real city) the right to arrest the real world person behind that character? This is ridiculous.

     

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  25.  
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    Jack Sombra, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 3:25pm

    Going to have to partially disagree

    While in situations where theft is part of the game design there should be no real life crime to answer for but when it involves things like external hacking or phishing there most defiantly should be.

    That fact that the stolen goods are "virtual" is immaterial. Why? Because nearly all cyber crime is "theft" of virtual goods anyway.

    Let’s say you hack your national bank and move a million dollars from someone else's account to yours.

    What have you litterly done? Just changed some one’s and zeros because those ones and zeros don't translate into something tangible until you withdraw the funds or use them to purchase something

    But the cops and law do not see it this way and if it is to be this way for some virtual goods it needs to be for all virtual goods

    btw

    "The folks who run the world should be able to deal with the situation, as they are the world's de facto government. "
    More accurate to say they are the worlds de facto GOD. Gov's can only dream they had the same kind of power in the real world

     

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  26.  

    What happens in Habbo, stays in Habbo

    They should deal with it like in the real world. Set up a Government, a court system, police, jails, and everything else like in the real world.

    Politicians can be bribed, Presidential voting can be manipulated, even have the death penalty enabled to wipe you off the virtual earth.

    Now this type of virtual world I would love to see.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 5:54pm

    Re: Virtual Whores

    So what if a second life character is a virtual call-girl supplying virtual prostitution for real dollars. Does that give the vice-squad of (pick your real city) the right to arrest the real world person behind that character?
    Of course! People with dirty minds should be in prison. Same thing goes for virtual kiddy porn and other virtual perversions. Except the prison should be real, not virtual.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 6:00pm

    "Of course! People with dirty minds should be in prison. "

    Let me guess ....... fanatical religious zealot.


    Am I close?

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2007 @ 10:19pm

    Re:

    Let me guess ....... fanatical religious zealot.
    Am I close?
    Let me guess ....... pedophile.
    Am I close?

     

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  30.  
    icon
    Lisa Westveld (profile), Nov 15th, 2007 @ 1:57am

    While everyone mentions that someone was arrested for theft, the actual charge is actually computer fraud in this case. Computer fraud in attempt to get access to cash. The hacker gained access to accounts of other Habbo members through whatever tricks they use and just moved everything from those other accounts to their own. While you can call this theft, they will be charged for computer fraud, which is a punishable offense in the Netherlands. Basically, these hackers bypassed the security measures of this game to gain illegal access to other people's accounts.
    They are ALSO charged for theft because that's just part of the computer fraud they've committed. And that will indeed be interesting to follow. But the main charge is computer fraud.

    But hey, "virtual theft" sounds a lot better in public media, right?

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 15th, 2007 @ 2:56am

    Re:

    While everyone mentions that someone was arrested for theft, the actual charge is actually computer fraud in this case.
    No, they were actually charged with theft also. Computer fraud wasn't the only charge.

    They are ALSO charged for theft because that's just part of the computer fraud they've committed.
    Make up your mind.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Can't Believe this Sh1t!, Nov 15th, 2007 @ 3:59am

    Too much money not enough guidance

    Who in the hell spends 4000 euros on virtual furniture.
    I sure as hell could do something better with that morons money. This is a fake world. You have a problem you tell the admin and they had better be able to fix what happened. You can't tell me there isn't a log of the actions made while playing. It can't be that hard to undo what a scammer does to you.

     

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  33.  
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    Neverhood, Nov 15th, 2007 @ 4:56am

    Maybe it would make more sense to accuse the "thief" of identity theft and impersonating someone else (what is that called in legal terms?), since that's the way he "stole" the furniture, and indeed the only way it is possible in the virtual world.

    I have a really hard time seeing why real-world laws should be applied in a virtual world. The big difference between real and virtual is that in a virtual world "theft" per say (or other "crimes") is not possible unless the creators MAKE IT possible.

     

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  34.  
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    InsaneInTheBrain, Nov 15th, 2007 @ 2:22pm

    Beam me up Scotty cause this planet sucks

    4k Euro on virtual furniture! He deserves it and then some. This is insane. Get a life people, a real life.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Steven [ Habbo Player ], Nov 30th, 2007 @ 4:14pm

    STUPID!!!

    THIS IS STUPID NOT THE SCAMMING BIT BUT THE POLICE BIT...

    Why bring Police into a game?

    If This Is A Real Problem Then They Shouls Stop Habbo Altogether Or Just Allow The Fact That There Is 14 Year Old Scammers Who Are Just Having A Bit Of Fun!

     

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  36.  
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    eat shit, Jan 25th, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    He Shouldn't have been arrested, from what I heard you can gamble on habbo? Correct me if I'm wrong.

    Isn't that illegal unless they have a permit to allow online gambling?

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Rachy x, Apr 19th, 2009 @ 12:36pm

    habbo Hotel

    I think they had every right to inform the police because I play Habbo Hotel and use real money to buy furniture and:

    it is a crime to rob someone of their money isn't it? So really it is a crime to rob someone of their furniture that they have paid real money for.

    I think that the police should have been involved.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:32pm

    think for a min...TERMS AND CONDITIONS?

    ppl use real $ to purchase rights to use virtual items...like the furniture in habbo. by stealing the furniture from other ppl, u're stealing the $ they used to buy it...OR if u use the furniture in ur own version of the game, or make ur own game and let ppl play it(private servers r a great example)...

    also...read the TERMS AND CONDITIONS or the AGREEMENT (tells you all the rules and what you can get charged for)...you should read it before accepting and/or joining ANYTHING online...

    its like signing a contract...y would u sign a contract without reading it?!?!

    so stop and think for a lil bit next time, k?
    read the terms and conditions...dont b lazy (bet most here are)

     

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  39.  
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    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:35pm

    Re: Re:

    like you? :P

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:38pm

    Re: Re: Then don't use real money

    ur right...
    so...
    until the gas station's manager from down the street decides to PREVENT his goods from being stolen... i should b ok... right?

    no...the developers do take security measures...but when ppl steal online, its called scamming, or hacking...

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:43pm

    Re: A bit over the top

    removing money aspect = no money for the developers = no game at all...

    im goin to steal ur computer so u can stop writing...and if u EVER say anything to anyone...i'll give it back...and the police cant do anything about it...its just that simple...right?

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:46pm

    Re:

    he stole his account where he had 4,000 euros worth of furniture (yes, he had no life)

    and its called theft little buddy.

     

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  43.  
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    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:48pm

    Re: Re:

    imma steal ur comp too...

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:49pm

    Re: Habbo Needs to do a better job

    the furniture costs REAL $...

    ...he stole his account and took his furniture...which costs REAL $

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:53pm

    Re: Buying Furniture on-line

    if u copy the furniture...u're stealing from the developers...

    I know that you MUST know about pirated movies...and what happens if u get caught w that? hmmm?

     

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  46.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:55pm

    Re: Read the article

    OMG! smartest thing i've read here so far...




    ...im bored as hell btw...funny seeing all the unlogical posts here...

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    ziggy, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 10:56pm

    Re:

    "On the other hand, if this article is really about phishing, then the situation might be different. A real crime has, possibly, been committed. It also says something about the people who are the victims of the scam. Maybe if they spent a little less time in their ridiculous virtual worlds and a little more time out in the real world learning how to take a few basic precautions they might not have fallen for it."


    ...yes...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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