In August 2011, thousands of players of the video game EVE Online found out that they were victims of an in–game Ponzi scheme. Players invested virtual currency in an in–game virtual company that paid out high returns supported by other players’ investments. In just eight months, the people who ran the Ponzi scheme pocketed over 1 trillion ISK—the game’s virtual currency—worth an estimated $51,577 in real U.S. dollars (link). An interesting twist is that the two people who ran the Ponzi scheme describe the story about how they did it and why they did it on their Web site.
I’ve written previously about the potential financial value in online accounts and digital property, especially in video games. Where there is financial value, there is the potential for unscrupulous or criminal actions to try and take that value. As Francis Bacon wrote, “Opportunity makes a thief.”
In estate planning, it’s important to protect passwords, online accounts, and digital property—especially digital property with financial value—when a person becomes incapacitated or dies. For video games and virtual worlds, some are free to play, and others require monthly or annual access fees to preserve the account and keep the account active. Some virtual worlds and virtual property require active management and maintenance to preserve and maximize the financial value. When the person becomes incapacitated or dies, consider changing the passwords used to access the account to prevent unauthorized access. Whether or not the video game character, items, or virtual currency can be transferred depends on the video game Terms of Service contract—some companies allow transfers but others don’t. Also, be alert for unscrupulous activity in the video game or virtual world, and consult a video gaming expert if you need assistance.