Friday, July 8, 2011

Con Jobs

The other day I mentioned griefers. There is another sort of unsavory character you may meet in Second Life…the con artist or scammer. Because SL has a microcurrency with real value (linden dollars can be converted back into $USD through PayPal), there’s the usual percentage of people there who are more than happy to relieve you of your $L by dishonest tactics. In fact, the percentage of con artists in SL may even be higher than in Real Life, for a number of reasons: 1) automatic anonymity, 2) small amounts of money mean less likelihood of being hotly pursued, and 3) no criminal penalties.

“What, no criminal penalties?” I hear you exclaim. Nope. There are no laws in Second Life. There are only the Terms of Service and Community Standards and various other Linden Lab policies that they incorporate by reference. Plus, Linden Lab does not enforce any resident-to-resident business agreements or arbitrate business disputes.

Let me say that again: There Are No Laws Here. There is only company policy. You are responsible for your own actions and if you get taken in by someone and lose money you have very little recourse. In order to sue anyone or file a complaint, you would have to go to the Real Life authorities (the FBI has jurisdiction over interstate fraud in the US). They would then have to get a court order to subpoena Linden Lab’s records and the real life identity of the suspect. Also, bear in mind that any sort of civil court action like a lawsuit is going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Since most “crimes” in SL involve the loss of maybe a few cents up to say around $50.00, you can imagine that few people choose to prosecute or sue.

So, what should you look out for and what can you do to protect yourself?

Vendor manipulation. A thief can cover a merchandise vendor or an ATM machine with a transparent prim. You think you are paying the vendor prim, but you are really paying the thief’s invisible prim. If you suspect this, enable View Transparent Textures with CTRL+ALT+T and look for a red prim overlaying the vendor. If you see that, notify the store owner and Abuse Report the owner of the transparent prim.

Non-Delivery. This is usually not a scam, but an SL hiccup. Contact the merchant via an IM and a notecard and explain what happened. Include a copy of the transaction from your transaction log (in your account on the SL website). Most merchants are happy to re-deliver.

Store Scams. You may meet someone in a store who claims to be the owner or manager or a salesperson, who offers you a “special deal” on an item if you pay them directly. Don’t do it. Abuse Report them and notify the store owner.

Account Debiting Objects. Some things, like rental boxes or vendors that you yourself own and put out for your business, have a legitmate need to access your account, in order to give refunds to customers. But if you see a notice like this one and are not expecting it, don’t click “Allow”. The object may suck all the money out of your account. There was recently a scam of this nature in which an account-debiting illegal copy of an item associated with the popular “Meeroos” breedable creatures was being distributed.

Sell-and-Scrape. A few estate owners out for a quick buck sell all the land on their island, then kick everyone off and start over. This is less prevalent than it used to be because so many estate owners no longer charge a large “purchase” price, only the weekly or monthly rental fees. But don’t pay rental more than a month in advance; I know some people who pre-paid for a year and got kicked off with no refund. This scam has a limited life expectancy as word gets around about the crooked estate owner. Even so, when leasing private estate land, research the estate owner’s reputation, and carefully read the Covenant.

Be My Business Partner. A friend might offer to go halves with you in purchasing a private island of your own. Be careful; there is only one owner. If it’s them, and they later decide to kick you off the land, you’re out hundreds of dollars. Many partners are honest…but a few are not.

The Disappearing Skybox. Some people will put up skyboxes over land they don’t own, like a public sandbox, and rent them to unsuspecting residents. When the land’s auto-return feature deletes the skybox, the victim gets a nasty surprise. Make sure the person you’re renting from actually owns the land! In a variation of this, someone may try to rent you a private estate parcel. Check to see if they are the estate owner. There are cases of people “selling the Brooklyn Bridge” by renting land that they did not, in fact, own.

Surveys for $L. “Ask me about Free $L!” “Earn2Life”. These and similar scams tell you that you can be paid $L for filling out surveys on the web. I don’t know anyone who’s made money with these, but I’ve heard plenty of complaints from people who have had their computers infected by viruses or malware from the survey sites.

Travel HUD. You wear a special HUD and travel to the places it suggests. If you follow certain rules (like actively looking about and clicking things), you are supposedly paid $L. A friend tried this and not only was not paid, she continued getting annoying messages from the system even after deleting the HUD.

Bargain $L. You might see $L for sale at bargain prices on eBay or some other third party website. Be aware that some crooks use stolen credit cards to buy $L and then sell the $L. If you are the receiver of fraudulent $L, LL will subtract them from your account and charge you a 50% penalty. Only third party sites that use the Linden Lab Exchange Risk API should be trusted.

Help Me! Some avatars simply beg. “Loan me $L50 until Tuesday.” Others give you a sob story. “I’m a poor student/my mother has cancer/they’re going to shut off my internet/my account got hacked and my $L stolen/you name it.” Sometimes the scammer will take days or weeks to become close to you before making his or her pitch. It’s fine to help out a friend…but be aware that not everything people tell you in SL is true.

Threats. Some people try to threaten you. “I’m the SL Police. You have been fined $L50 for misbehaving in a General area. Pay me or your account will be disabled.” Unless an avatar has the last name “Linden”, they have no authority and can be ignored, or Abuse Reported.

If It’s Too Good To Be True…then it probably is. Land has to rent at a high enough price so the owner can pay his tier to LL. Very low rental prices can mean that there is a catch. In the same way, designer skins and clothing at very low prices may be an indicator that the items are illegal copies.

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