According to a report in London's Daily Mail newspaper, a 23-year-old man is being held for hijacking hundreds of user accounts to gain access to their hard-won virtual assets.
Security experts predicted trouble in the virtual asset area more than two years ago.
The hacker targeted users playing RuneScape, a medieval fantasy game that has more than 100 million players worldwide, the report says. It revolves around collecting gold coins that characters can use to buy magic potions, spells, and weapons in a world of dungeons and dragons.
It can take years for players to accrue wealth and skills through a series of challenges, from fighting goblins to activities such as fishing, farming, and mining, the report states.
Police believe the hacker obtained password details through a phishing scam in which a fake Internet page tricks a user into giving up his personal information, according to the report. The hacker can then gain control of the player's character -- or avatar -- and sell off his weapons, skills, equipment, and clothing, which can be worth tens of thousands of dollars in the real world.
Though against the rules of the game, there is a lucrative black market where players can buy powerful characters and items within RuneScape, without having to spend hundreds of hours building up their own profiles, the report notes. One RuneScape account was recently sold on eBay for more than $80,000.
Police believe the man, who has not been named, did not steal the data in order to sell it, but simply wanted to boost his own standing in the computer game. He was arrested last Tuesday on a charge of hacking into 284 accounts, according to the report.
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