Some people thought of it as an online game with virtual worlds but it seems nothing is too vague or out of reach of human nature or the drive for profit, licit or illicit. The question has certainly been raised whether criminals make use of the virtual world of Second Life to launder the proceeds of crime.
It was the subject of research at the University of West England and it impressed many police forces such that more research has been carried on all around the place with significant collaboration with police forces.
The Government was then asked to regulate the virtual online communities because of fears that criminals and terrorists could use them to launder money. The Fraud Advisory Panel produced a reportin 2009 setting out concerns about the way in which criminals would use the virtual worlds to commit crime. Money laundering by fraudsters is accomplished by converting the proceeds of illegal activities into online currency, which is then used to purchase goods and/or services from you before being exchanged into real world currency. It appears the FAP was concerned about the prospect of large amounts of money being transferred with little risk of detection. With millions of users Second Life’s use of “Linden dollars” which are converted from real currencies leaves experts concerned that the lack of checks to ensure whether transfers are legitimate will assist criminals to hide behind the computer characters they create, making identification very difficult.
The FAP report details many other ways that the Panel concluded crime could and would be committed online. Perhaps more worryingly was the research undertaken by German police that a paedophile ring may have used online worlds to distribute images of child abuse. Gangs could use Second Life for credit card fraud, identity theft and tax evasion.
Virtual worlds are not really beyond the reach of the law but existing laws are not well suited to resolving problems within them. Crimes committed within virtual worlds could have significant repercussions in the real world – so virtual worlds need to be regulated by some means to protect the safety and security of people in a very real way. How to control something that only has a virtual existence and cannot be limited to just one jurisdiction remains the real challenge.
If you get involved in an investigation involving any virtual world implications you ought to contact Dennis Clarke to discuss your needs and agree a fee structure to deal with this.
Clarke Kiernan, Criminal Law Solicitors,