A 29-year-old former UK council accounts clerk was just sentenced to two years in prison, plus a 30-week suspended sentence. His crime? Impersonating two employees, Ashley Mitchell repeatedly hacked into Zynga’s database and transferred more than $12 million worth of in-game currency to his own accounts. He then went on the Zynga black market–that’s right, it exists–and sold some of the 400 billion virtual gaming chips he stole.
Mitchell could have become a millionaire, cinching a sordid tale worthy of a Lifetime made-for-TV drama. Instead, he only finagled $85,870 before he was caught.
His over $1600 a day gambling outlay didn’t help, and much of the money he made off Zynga went to feed his online habit. Zynga first noticed that vast quantities of chips were going missing in August 2009, but at some point Mitchell must have been looking for fast cash, because he slipped up and logged in using his real Facebook account (oops) and used an unsecured wireless connection from his neighbor (double oops) to hack into the Zynga mainframe. With his fingerprints everywhere and traceable, Zynga and the authorities quickly found him.
Mitchell’s defense attorney Ben Darby claims that the two-year sentence was too harsh. After all, he said, it’s not like Zynga poker chips are real money. There’s no way to quantify how much virtual money is really worth, Darby argued, but the judge wasn’t persuaded. Not only does the Zynga let players pay real money to load up on poker chips, Mitchell made actual cash off his scam.
It could be worse. Imagine if he was off to the big house for pulling a Farmville Farm Cash scam. Or, more embarrassingly, if he was going to jail because he tried to sell YoVille Cash to the handful of Zynga minions still playing that one.