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Posted on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

FBI agents search University of Michigan students' apartment during investigation involving World of Warcraft scheme

By Lee Higgins

FBI agents recently raided at an apartment at University Towers in Ann Arbor as they investigate potentially fraudulent sales or purchases of virtual currency that people use to advance in the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft, records show.

No arrests have been made, FBI Special Agent Sandra Berchtold, a bureau spokeswoman in Detroit, said Wednesday.

Berchtold said she could not comment further on the March 30 raid because many documents in the case remain sealed.

The apartment is home to two men, a sophomore and a junior at the University of Michigan. The sophomore, who was there during the raid, told that he thinks the FBI has the wrong people and he and his roommate don't play World of Warcraft, known as WOW.


FBI agents searched a University Towers apartment last week in Ann Arbor during a fraud investigation related to the online game World of Warcraft.

Angela J. Cesere

"They thought we were involved in some kind of fraud," he said. "I'm pretty sure they have the wrong people, but they took all my stuff."

He said he has been consulting with student legal services to explore his options. His roommate could not be reached for comment. is not naming the men because they have not been charged with a crime.

Agents are investigating whether at least one person engaged in a scheme to set up fraudulent bank accounts to buy and/or sell "virtual currency" or "gold" to be used in the game, federal court records show.

WOW gamers say players take the game seriously and are willing to pay real cash for virtual currency in order to get ahead. When players complete tasks such as slaying monsters, they earn virtual currency they can use to buy better equipment for their characters.

Some people, called "gold farmers," work to accumulate as much virtual currency as fast as possible, and then auction it off on the Internet to other players in exchange for cash. Gold farming, common in countries including China, is frowned upon by some in the gaming community as cheating.

Records show agents executed a search warrant at the South Forest Avenue apartment near the university's Central Campus at 8:45 a.m. March 30. Investigators seized laptop computers, hard drives, video game systems, credit cards, a cell phone, paperwork and other computer equipment, documents say.

Investigators were seeking records of any online transactions with WOW, the Chinese-based gold-farming website, eBay, PayPal and the United Services Automobile Association, which offers services including online banking.

Last October, WOW, produced by Blizzard Entertainment, had a subscriber base of more than 12 million players worldwide, a company news release said.

Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for He can be reached by phone at (734) 623-2527 and email at



Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 11:41 p.m.

Wow who really cares! The governent isn't getting the tax money from people doing this so now they are mad! Why don't the FBI investgate Obama for not being born in the USA?


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

I *used* to play WoW as of 3-4 months ago I have given up on the game. I don't find it enjoyable anymore, but that is all jibberish anyways. I read through some of the comments and had to make a comment to the folks who make comments about something they know nothing about. 1st.: As of 3 months ago I had the chance to purchase 20,000g (in-game currency) for $20. A person I played with said he made this purchase 3 times ($60) for 60,000g (in-game currency) so that equates to roughly $1 for every 1000g. 2nd.: It is astonishing that the FBI given ratio of cost and what is at stake would even take a gander at this. 3rd.: Someone had posted that the FBI gets involved in anything over $100,000. That means that a single gold seller would have to have 100,000,000g minimum. Considering that PER CHARACTER (10 total per server per account) can only hold 236,000g (we will round it up to 250,000g).. so 250,000g (So all 10 characters gold capped would be 2,500,000g) to even reach anywhere close to 100,000,000g across multiple servers would be impossible for 2 people to do. They would have to average 46,000g per day for 6 years. EVERY DAY. It's funny how google + knowing a little about a product and doing simple math can take doubt away from 2 individuals attending college and inbetween classes and possibly jobs...average 46,000g a day for 6 years straight. And that is just to get the FBI involved...Because as someone said $100,000 gets the FBI involved.


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 5:50 a.m.

I think of things like this as a matter of what we would prefer: the FBI going after computer criminals or... showing up in Ann Arbor in pursuit of armed criminals or terrorists. Somehow, I'm just less nervous to imagine that the two guys in the next apartment are exploiting people who are obsessed with computer games rather than, say, whipping up a batch of RDX to blow up University Towers. As for the FBI going to Wall Street with their search warrants, remember: both our current and last president told the SEC and Justice Department... don't go there. Apparently, the only mistake our local (alleged) computer criminals did was to not make enough from their crime. The old saying, "Crime does not pay" no longer applies. The new saying is: Really, really big crime pays quite well and there's no unpleasant government pursuit to deal with either!


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 5:29 a.m.

The War on World of Warcraft (WoWoW) will be as effective as the War on Drugs (WoD)... Our prisons will be as filled with gamers as they are with pot smokers... Now, if we could get the taxes owed by offshore banking, that would be about $9 billion USD... But that is protected by US law, as is moving all jobs overseas and turning America into a third world nation... Your future and your children's future now rests with billionaires in other countries... I am holding a virtual auction of my farmville animals, increase your farm the easy way! Buy my animals!

Andrew MacKie-Mason

Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 1:49 a.m.

Fraud is fraud. It really doesn't matter if you would consider buying the thing that people are buying – they still don't deserve to get their money stolen. As for the generic attacks on online gamers, I just played a surprisingly fun game: replace references to WoW in the comments with college football. For instance: "What isn't a point of debate is that any apartment that is a hot bed for World of Warcraft is certainly also to possess powerful magical properties that repel attractive women. "In fact, if you log enough hours on World of Warcraft, I think that you are automatically awarded an Impenetrable Cloak of Virginity. This is a real world item!!!" Becomes: "What isn't a point of debate is that any apartment that is a hot bed for college sports is certainly also to possess powerful magical properties that repel attractive women. "In fact, if you log enough hours on ESPN, I think that you are automatically awarded an Impenetrable Cloak of Virginity. This is a real world item!!!"

Peter Jameson

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

this has to be a bad joke...

C. S. Gass

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 9:36 p.m.

This is a case of life imitating art. The show "Big Bang Theory" had an episode similar to this and the police, the local police, the REAL police, did nothing about it. That is the sensible course. Are the FBI now the 'rules police' for WOW? I'll not mention the waste of tax dollars, that's been beaten to death. I cannot wait till the government shutdown. At least this level of foolishness will go away for a time. The FBI is a joke. As is most of the federal government. A really bad, expensive joke...

Tom Teague

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

Those Terms of Service Agreements so few of us ever read are often legally binding contracts. Possibly the WOW folks asked for legal help in stemming these violations. While the FBI sounds like overkill, the nature of the game would lend itself to interstate fraud, which is Federal jurisdiction. And with 12 million subscribers, the cost of damages could add up quickly.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

Congrats to the FBI, continue searching! WOW, never heard of the game. No children no WOW in my houshold. Now if you want to play Pinochle on Yahoo, I'm game!


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 6:18 p.m.

Whether this is something that should or shouldn't have been pursued by the FBI and our tax dollars is a point of debate. What isn't a point of debate is that any apartment that is a hot bed for World of Warcraft is certainly also to possess powerful magical properties that repel attractive women. In fact, if you log enough hours on World of Warcraft, I think that you are automatically awarded an Impenetrable Cloak of Virginity. This is a real world item!!!


Sat, Apr 16, 2011 : 3:21 a.m.

You would be surprised how many of us WoW players are females, not virgins and don't live at home in the basement. People shouldn't say we are the weird ones because we find entertainment in our computers when most of the population is on Facebook or have Twitter accounts. People would rather go without food then to go without their computers or cell phones.


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 3:03 p.m.

Smokeblwr - BBC did a statistical survey on it. Google is your friend.


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 3:03 p.m.

Stereotype 1: "Almost all MMO players are male." (Gender) Actually, this stereotype is somewhat accurate. Most players are male. However, the percentage of male players is not as overwhelming as many people believe. Although the percentage of male players may have been greater in the past, currently only 60% of MMO players are male (BBC) and this percentage continues to shrink as more and more females are starting to play MMOs.


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 11:10 a.m.

Macabre Sunset, Please show me the stats you have showing half of online players of role playing games are women. I find that really hard to believe. Everybody I'm aware of that plays these games are guys, but maybe I am just hanging around with middle aged virgins.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 10:32 p.m.

I don't really get the MMRPG thing, either, but about half of all online RPG players are women. World of Warcraft is more male-dominated, but still, more than two million of them are female. The idea that people who seek out entertainment using their computers are nerdy virgins is very '80s. Time to update those senseless stereotypes. Today it's just a replacement for an increasingly commercial-dominated world of broadcast television.

David Cahill

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

Looks like the FBI's budget could use some cutting.

John B.

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.



Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 3:36 p.m.

I'm confused from the article it says: Agents are investigating whether at least one person engaged in a scheme to set up fraudulent bank accounts to buy and/or sell "virtual currency" or "gold" to be used in the game, federal court records show. so I am assuming that the "fradulent bank accounts" part is the illegal part and that "gold farming" or buying and/or selling a "virtual currency" is not the illegal part. The reason being that you would be paying a person for their time and effort to acquire something that you want and not the actual item (virtual currency), whether or not a virtual currency seems like a valid product is questionable to some and not to others? personally I don't get the whole WOW thing. I think it's weird!


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 9:26 p.m.

I think the confusion I have is a prime example of the writing style of, so many of these stories are incomplete. What reporter doesn't make it clear what the actual crime is? Does ANYONE proof read these and pose questions prior to it being posted? Is there an actual editor? or are they all self edited. if it were to include a jab at the video game I don't care, it just needs to be clear in an article what the actual reason was that the FBI got involved. Additionally someone else posted that the FBI usually only gets involved after a certain dollar amount. Well actually, if there was a crime across state lines or international that involved fradulant bank accounts (which probably meant identities?) then I could see why the FBI were involved. just saying the article is incomplete and the focus misplaced perhaps.


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

It's a jab at a video game. If they are setting up fraudulent bank accounts then that is the crime at hand and that is what the article should be about. What the bank accounts were for is just jibberish. If someone told you that they murdered someone because they needed money for their kids heart surgery...Everything past "they murdered someone" is negligable and not needed. Who cares why you murdered someone, the fact is they murdered someone. Same with this story, who cares why they were setting up fraudulent bank accounts (If they were) they should stay on focus as to what the charges are.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 3:03 p.m.

Hopefully one of these guys has a +2 Staff of Plea Bargaining...


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

Not only are these scams a way to launder money, but they also use the same phishing schemes as the ones used to get bank and credit card info to obtain account information from players, (including kids) so that they can use someone else's account to add another layer of insulation between themselves and any investigations. So yes, this is considerably more than just some geeks paying real money for fake money. Just because you can't see more reasons to stop doing this than just what you see on the small bit of surface, doesn't mean that it's a waste of tax money. People jumping to conclusions without bothering to find out all of the facts is where we get into trouble and lose things that we need as a society.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

I had some idiot hack my PayPal account and charge 2,200 back in April 2008. Thank goodness Huron River Credit Union was kind enough to refund the charges for overdrafts. PayPal took a week....blegh. I hope the individuals behind this scam get locked into some super maximum security. When you stop stealing my money, we will start talking about fair.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

Please tell me those were virtual FBI agents and none of this is reality.

Phil K.

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

The exchange rate for in-game gold in WoW is (or at least was, based on the different papers I found) about $250 dollars per 1000g. Based on the amount of gold in play on all servers, WoW's economy, in terms of GDP, would be larger than about 20-30 *NATIONS.* Why are your tax dollars being "wasted"? Say you've got an enterprise you want to the books. Instead of going through the complicated games of phony investing in shell companies, or anything else that involves moving funds between institutions where detailed records must be kept (by law), just slap some money in a paypal account, then get to trading in gold and loot. Any idiot can figure out how to play a game, right? Buy some armor, some weapons, sell 'em off, trade the items between a few players in a few different countries, put the money in a new paypal account. Bingo-bango, yer launderin' money. Officially, Paypal and WoW say that such transactions are against their terms of service, but so long as folks keep shelling out 15 bucks a month for WoW and keeping money in a non-FDIC insured account (like paypal).....well, no harm no foul. WoW isn't the only game where these transactions take place It's funny to me when people laugh at 'nerds' who'd shell out 500 bucks for virtual gold in a game. How exactly is that different from people who spend 500 bucks on a new driver thinking it will make them a better golfer?


Mon, Apr 11, 2011 : 11:02 p.m.

Uh, no, sir. 1000g is nowhere near $250. It sells for around $2.50. That's two dollars and fifty cents. Give or take a buck depending on your source. Google is your friend. Either way... where is the crime here again?


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 3:55 p.m.

WoW gold isn't nearly that expensive. I get bombarded with spam in game from these gold sellers and the typical rate advertised is as little as $1.50 per 1000g

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

Lesson Learned: When playing World of Warcraft, and encountering a character named "FBIAgentBerchtold" while wandering through the Palace of Undernourished Elves, do not gratuitously use your Spell of Excruciating Diarrhea on the poor woman. It may come back to haunt you.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

1. This is illegal? 2. Who cares? 3. The FBI wasted resources on this? A fool and his money are soon parted. Don't get in the way!


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

Remove WOW references and you have a case of fraud that crosses state lines. While it may not be a "glamorous" FBI crime, it does sound like it falls under their jurisdiction.

Bertha Venation

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

Why, my land!! I am virtually apalled!!


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

WoW!! Just.....WoW!! Crime has sunk to a new nerdy low....


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 12:21 p.m.

Love the comment, "Pretty sure they have the wrong guys:" I know I can tell you there are absolutely no online worlds of warcraft scammers in my household. I see another sound bite on SNL's weekend update.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 12:17 p.m.

I got a box full of Monopoly money if anybodies interested. It should be worth a fortune, because its old (collectible) and just as useless as their pretend money.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 11:20 a.m.

The Feds don't get involved unless it's at least $100k, and more often at least $500k in fraud loss. If they're raiding folks, it's likely much, much more - and probably related to other major crimes (the unregulated currency exchange and high volume in these secondary markets is attractive for money laundering). Virtual goods sales will exceed $2 billion this year (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> - and if you're looking to move a lot of money online, quickly, internationally - aside from money mules there's probably few other ways to do it as easily.


Fri, Apr 8, 2011 : 5:39 a.m.

Thanks for the tip: here I've been working for a paycheck the last 40 years while all this easy money is just sitting there &quot;inside my computer.&quot; ;-)


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 11:45 a.m.

The &quot;scam&quot; in TOTAL might involve that much world wide, but not these two students, I'll betcha. much did the Wall Street fiasco cost us? (and is still costing us) And how many white collar criminals on Wall Street went to jail? And for that I blame BOTH political parties.


Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 10:46 a.m.

Just a guess but I'm thinking most taxpayers would rather FBI agents go to Wall Street and pick up the criminals there.....who have robbed the taxpayers and been the major cause of our economic owes. I have never blamed a gamer for that.

Jim Nazium

Thu, Apr 7, 2011 : 10:20 a.m.

Our Tax Dollars at work, I will sleep so much better now knowing that the FBI is on top of this. Could you imagine what would happen if the price of slaying a One-eyed Monkey Goblin were more than capturing a hidden bag of Elf Dandruff on the banks of the Get a Life Enchanted River? I mean seriously, right? Price fixing and illegal point trading in this Virtual World far outweighs back-door dirty business dealings, corruption, conspiracy, murder, drugs and all that other non- important stuff.....