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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Land Scams

If you really get into Second Life, sooner or later you are probably going to want some land. You can get a Premium membership and either buy Mainland from a resident, or get a free Linden Home. If you own more than the Linden Home, or some other 512 m2 parcel on the Mainland, you’ll pay a monthly tier fee to LL.

But Mainland is not the only land in Second Life. In fact, it’s only about 20% of SL. The other 80% is made up of “private estates”…islands, or groups of islands, ordered by residents from LL and then leased out piecemeal to other residents.

I’ve lived on both Mainland and Private Estate land, and enjoyed them both. Mainland has a big, open feel to it because you can travel across so many regions before hitting a void boundary. It’s also generally cheaper to buy or rent there. On the other hand, LL is a very lassiez-faire manager and it can take a long time to get any problems taken care of. Also, the nearly nonexistent zoning can mean that you have to put up with some pretty wacky or unsightly builds by the neighbors.

Private estates tend to have tighter zoning and more active management. That can be comforting when you have problems, but annoying if it’s the management telling you that you can’t put up that gothic castle you just bought.

But I don’t want to get into yet another Mainland vs. Estate fight with anyone. Instead, I want to talk about some of the pitfalls that can trap the unwary avatar. If you buy a dress and it doesn’t get delivered, you are out a few hundred lindens. If you are the victim of a land scam, you can wind up losing hundreds of real dollars, or even more.

The Duplicitous Partner. Let’s say you are taken by the idea of virtual land in a big way, and want to own your own private island…but you can’t swing the $1,000 setup fee or the $295 per month in tier. But you talk it over with a friend and she is also enthusiastic. The two of you decide to split the costs and share in the profits. There’s only one problem…LL does not sell islands by halves. There’s only a single owner of record. So you flip a coin and your partner puts her name on the deed. You send her your half of the purchase price by PayPal or you buy a hefty chunk of $L and pay her that way. After a month or so, the two of you have a disagreement. She gets mad, and kicks you out of the estate’s land group and bans you, too. You submit a complaint to LL, but they say it’s a dispute between Residents and they won’t get involved. You are out $500 with no recourse. If you enter into a business partnership with someone, and real money is involved, make it a Real World partnership with the right documents.

The Brooklyn Bridge. You’re looking for a little bit of paradise on the beach, and you think you’ve found it. Here is a beautiful oceanfront parcel with a rental box on it. You pay the rental box and move in. Except that a short time later, you get an angry note from someone you’ve never heard of: “Hello, squatter. I am the owner of this estate. You have not paid your rental fee. I’m returning your objects and banning you from this area.” What the heck!? What has happened is that a scammer took advantage of the land’s object rezzing settings and put out his own rental box. He doesn’t own the land that he “rented” to you. Some scammers will even put up beautiful skybox homes above public areas like sandboxes, and rent them to you. When the real landowner or the land’s autoreturn function return the skybox or other items, the scammer is long gone. Whenever you buy or rent land, make sure you understand the ownership clearly. This may take a little research, as some estates do allow subleasing, and some land is group owned. Don’t be afraid to IM an estate owner and say, “Lindal Kidd is offering to sell me her land at Masocado 120, 35, 25. Does she have the right to do that, or should I be talking to you instead?”

Sell and Scrape. This one is not as prevalent as it used to be. An estate owner will sell all the parcels on his island, then simply kick off the tenants with no refund or explanation, and begin the process over again. It’s important to read an estate’s Covenant document before buying there, but it is also important to realize that the Covenant is not a binding contract…the estate owner can do as he or she pleases. As long as LL collects its monthly fees from them, they will not take action in resident disputes. Do some research on the estate owner before you buy! Check out their reputation on forums, with Google, and with their other tenants.

Doughnut Extortion. You buy a nice parcel of land, but didn’t notice that there is a small parcel excluded from the middle. The former owner smiles and offers to sell you that last little bit for about ten times the cost per square meter as you paid for the rest of the land. Check the land carefully before you buy. Make sure that if you multiply the length and width, the result is the same as the stated parcel size.

Uglification. Your neighbor puts up a hideous build…then lets you know that he’d be willing to sell you that land, for a high price. He’s hoping you’ll pay the price just to get rid of the eyesore. You can Abuse Report this, and LL will take action in some instances. Check out the neighbors’ builds before you buy. Turn up your draw distance. Fly up high in the sky and look for ugly skyboxes.

Lag-ification. Your neighbor puts up a club with tons of rotating transparent blinging objects, or a ranch with a few hundred breedable animals. The sim performance slides into the waste bin. Like uglification, you can report this misuse of sim resources.

Even if you forget all the above scams, just remember two things and you will probably be OK:
  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Get a second opinion. A friend who’s not overcome by purchase fever may be able to spot a drawback that you do not.
If you want, I’ll come check out that parcel you are salivating over. My consultation fee is a flat $L250.

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