IT pro admits stealing £7.5m in virtual poker chips

A British IT professional has admitted hacking into an online gaming developer’s system and stealing $12 million-worth of virtual poker chips.

Ashley Mitchell, 29 of Paignton, Devon, told Exeter Crown Court that he hacked into the online poker system of Zynga, makers of the popular Facebook game Farmville, and stole 400 billion virtual poker chips.

According to local newspaper the Herald Express, the chips would have been worth £7.5 million ($12 million) if sold legitimately, although their value on the black market was “in the region of £184,000”, the prosecution said. Mitchell allegedly sold £53,000-worth of the chips on the black market before being caught.

Prosecutor Gareth Evans explained to the judge that while Zynga suffered no material loss as a result of the theft, its reputation among customers may have been damaged.

Mitchell, who was previously convicted of hacking into the local council’s website, was “wrestling with a gambling addiction” when he perpertrated the crimes in 2009, his defence said.     

Having pleaded guilty to four counts of converting criminal property and one of securing unauthorised access to a computer with intent to commit an offence, Mitchell is now awaiting sentence.

In other virtual currency news, the maker of popular online game World of Warcraft has renewed efforts to discourage the exchange of its in-game currency for real money. Under legal pressure from Blizzard, online payments processor PayPal is now warning anyone who uses the service to sell virtual "gold" that they are violating the game maker’s intellectual property rights.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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