Hacker admits stealing Zynga poker chips worth $12 million

Filed Under: Facebook, Law & order, Social networks

Zynga PokerA British man has admitted hacking into a computer server, and stealing 400 billion poker chips from Zynga, makers of popular social networking games such as FarmVille. The poker chips' estimated worth? An eye-watering $12 million (£7.4 million).

29-year-old Ashley Mitchell, from Paignton, Devon, admitted hacking into Zynga Poker's servers and transferring the online poker chips to fake Facebook accounts he had created. The chips were then sold to other online gamblers, for a discounted price.

An Exeter courtroom was told that Mitchell - who runs his own Facebook application called Gambino Poker - netted about £50,000 from the scheme, selling about one-third of the 400 billion chips on the black market. If he had continued it's estimated he could have made in excess of $290,000 (£184,000).

Mitchell was no stranger to accusations of hacking and details of the Computer Misuse Act, as he was already serving a 40-week suspended prison sentence for illegally breaking into Torbay Council's computerised benefits system to pay himself benefits.

Defending his client, solicitor Ben Derby claimed that at the time of the offence Mitchell had been struggling with a gambling addiction and was spending thousands on online games.

It's worth remembering that just because something may not physically exist doesn't mean in today's online world that it can't be stolen. In the past we've seen people accused of stealing virtual goods from players of fantasy role-playing games and even virtual furniture from virtual hotels.

As more and more people entertain themselves online, and companies make more and more money running the games, there will be further opportunities for virtual crimes to take place and more cases of cybercriminals being caught and punished.

Mitchell, who could face a prison sentence, pleaded guilty to four counts of converting criminal property, and breaking the Computer Misuse Act, between June and September 2009.

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5 Responses to Hacker admits stealing Zynga poker chips worth $12 million

  1. Sicko · 1175 days ago

    If someone makes actual real money through a computer hack or similar, it should be a crime. If it is all virtual and no real money was ever even in question, through an online fantasy or virtual game, there is no tangible loss or gain so that is not a "crime". Morals and ethics not entering the equation.

    • Still sounds like unauthorised access to a computer system to me - an offence under the Computer Misuse Act.

      And if the "virtual" poker chips belong to someone else, surely they should have the power to decide what happens to them rather than someone steal them and sell them for profit?

  2. Andrew · 1174 days ago

    well, there are so much around computer these days and i believe that hacks, virus, etc. should not be talorated. even if its something as minor as getting something virtual. think about it this way, virtual items helps make people money. if someone takes the item free of charge, the company does not make money. if the company must pay fees to host a game, etc. which is not cheep. if the company does not make money, then they cant afford those fees, eventually they are forced to shut down and a game you love to play no longer exists. virtual goods = money.

    but that's not all, people work hard on making goods available, should all that hard work be given to people they do not wish. virtual goods could also be the difference between a fair game or unbalanced and unfair.

    i truly believe that they should consider this a crime. same with any vertual goods being taken for it could be the differance between a happy healthy company with a bunch of employees, or one rich man.

  3. who cares · 749 days ago

    Virtual games with virtual money. It's been a while since I played the Maple game. I thought it quite idiotic to have such a game where you pay for virtual stuff, what a total waste of money. And then Facebook came out with it too, gawd. I don't know which is worse hackers or greed virtual gamers. The internet has really gone to shit.

  4. Jacqueline Terry · 711 days ago

    someone hacked into my account and stole over 45million in my zynga pokerchips..What can I do? How can I get in touch with zynga or facebook to report this?? anyone know?? I have their ip address and name..I just want my chips back. I find it quite difficult to get in touch with zynga or facebook directly

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About the author

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, and veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.