My PayPal was hacked to buy dodgy Diablo III gold

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Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon

Recently, I made a startling discovery: my bank account had been cleaned out via unauthorised PayPal transactions. While this, in itself, was distressing, it led to the discovery of criminality I wasn't even aware of — where online scammers scam other scammers, and where virtual currencies are used to launder money in a virtually undetectable way.

(Credit: Blizzard)

Firstly, I want to say that I place no blame here on PayPal, I'm not questioning the company's security and I'm happy with its response so far. I am, like millions of other people, a lazy password keeper, and while I regularly rotate the passwords attached to my bank account, I had overlooked PayPal for quite some time. I use PayPal for mostly small transactions; I sometimes buy movie tickets or toys on eBay. Still, I should have been changing my password regularly.

I had also directed PayPal notifications to an older email address. You know, the one you send Domino pizza vouchers and Daily Deal notifications to. I check this email address every other day, and scan for emails from friends I haven't spoken to in a while, so I wasn't watching when the notifications of these unauthorised transactions started appearing in my inbox. And this gave the scammers more than enough time to do their worst.

The discovery of being robbed is an awful feeling, the knowledge that a stranger has discovered something private about you and taken advantage of this. There's a practical burden too; having to explain the situation and borrow money, delaying automatic payments for rent and bills. I was angry, anxious and disappointed in myself.

And then the angry emails started appearing.

For as soon as I contacted PayPal, players from Diablo III, who were expecting my PayPal money, became aware that they were not going to get it. I received many threats, I was reported to the FBI for fraudulent business conduct and one guy googled me, discovered I work here at CNET and decided to name and shame me — you might have seen his handiwork in the comments section on our site. I also learned through these emails that all of the hard-earned money taken from my account had been spent on Diablo III gold. All of it — thousands of dollars equating to more than 2 billion gold in Diablo currency.

Despite the anger and the threats, I felt sorry for the guys who were emailing me. I played Diablo III for about six weeks after it launched in May and only managed to earn a little over a million gold coins, I could only imagine the dedication to the game that could produce a thousand times more. So I offered to help them recoup their losses. I told them I'd vouch for them to Blizzard and see that their gold was returned. These offers were angrily declined.

"Blizzard will not be able to help, as these types of sales are against Blizz terms of service policy and can't be proven because it doesn't keep track of non (real money auction house) trades", one of these guys told me in an email.

Blizzard wouldn't help? This seems like terrible public relations. Why would Blizzard turn a blind eye to scammers stealing gold from their loyal fan base? It is fake money, after all, so it'd be no skin off Blizzard's teeth to reimburse these players.

And then the proverbial penny dropped. I wasn't talking to lovers of the game who had been fleeced of the gold they had worked so hard to accumulate. These guys were scammers too, part of a network of people exploiting the game to earn money for nothing. A billion gold would take years to accrue at the rate I played the game, and it is only really possible with a farm of computers playing the game automatically, 24-hours a day. They call this botting, and the single purpose of this practice is to turn the game into a money-making tool. Blizzard wouldn't help these guys because it was these guys who were destroying the economy underpinning Diablo III.

Atomic PC recently published an interesting interview with a Diablo III botter, who runs game exploits on a small scale — two or three machines. The interviewee said that he can earn 300-400 thousand Diablo gold per hour, per machine, which he can then sell for about 80-cents. In all the time he has spent botting the game, he has earned a total of about AU$3000. The guy who stole my money obviously decided that botting was too slow and decided to take a shortcut.

But why, after all the effort and risk of stealing my money, would this thief spend it all on worthless virtual currency? Was he so desperate for a new virtual sword and helmet in the game?

I continued to email the Diablo III players who had been expecting my money, and though their anger didn't dissipate, they did help me understand how this works. We had, apparently, spoken several times before on third-party Diablo III forums and in the game. The thief went by the name "TNK" and had agreed to buy their gold for a competitive price. The payment was made privately, using my PayPal, circumventing Blizzard's real-money auction house system, and then they met in the game and traded the gold in a private trade window. Four different gold farmers had been ripped off by the person with my PayPal details, but the money had been subtracted from my PayPal account in over 15 different transactions. Apparently, this is to trick Blizzard into thinking that these smaller transactions are between friends and are not a business transaction. The person who stole my PayPal money now has several billion Diablo gold, which can be sold for real money again.

When you think about it, it is sort of like money laundering; the dirty money is cleaned through the process of buying and then re-selling virtual currency. Except that my money has never really been taken — it hangs in an electronic limbo until I can sort out the mess with PayPal and have it returned. In the meantime, the thief can successfully trade with the gold farmers and make off with the loot. I'm severely inconvenienced, PayPal has to field extra work investigating the claim and the gold farmers lose days worth of exploited game gold. The thief, on the other hand, makes off with several thousand dollars in cash and disappears into the ones-and-zeros.

Blizzard is a victim here, too. Not only is this a PR nightmare, but the game developer stands to lose revenue from a Diablo III economy that has been crushed by these gold farmers, where the huge influx of gold from these players has buried the price of the virtual currency. I've read in Diablo III forums about a golden age, when 1 million gold coins was worth over US$20. Today, it hovers at around US$2.50. Not unlike hyperinflation in real world economies, like Zimbabwe, recently, or Germany in the early 20th century, players in Diablo III are pushing virtual wheelbarrows full of virtually worthless gold thanks to these exploits. Blizzard has been working to introduce gold sales in its auction house, but at US$0.25 per 100,000 gold, it hardly seems worth it.

For my part, I'm still cranky, but mainly at myself. I'm also fascinated by the complexity of the Diablo economy and the involvement of millions of people who are dealing with a currency that can only be spent on intangible objects. The person who robbed me has concocted a scam out of nothing at all, trading in the desire for objects whose value exists in the imaginations of the game's players. This imagination fuels the ebb and flow of this perceived value, and out of it all, a new kind of criminal is born.

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gloriafuwenjing posted a comment   

Most diablo 3 players feel confused about where to go before they decide to buy diablo 3 gold online. Because there are thousands of diablo 3 gold online websites selling diablo 3 gold now. It is becomming more and more. So it will be more and more difficult for you to make final choice about where to buy is a good site you can have a try.


gloriafuwenjing posted a comment   

Players have many questions for diablo 3 gold.Of course,acquiring the gold in the game is really quite simple.But this phenomenon only occur in the initial performance of this predicament at the present.

Some players have 2000 gold coins while their level is only 5, which is similar to Diablo 2.Will Diablo 3 gold be abused again?Gold value of the adjustment process will be achieved through a balance.As a currency in circulation,Gold is extraordinarily important in most is not much used up.It stil have its own usage.Although the fall of gold coins is a lot, but as long as the price increase,it will become very important.

Know there is a shared memory in the same account of the differences between the roles. I am curious whether there is a box of gold coins can be shared. And it has nothing to do with what the shares what I have said.If you can put gold in the auction house, and a password with a friend is to sell your products at a low cost.The current content is difficult to draw a conclusion on the goods economy, because too many places is not yet known. diablo 3 equipment Players do not know the rarity of high-end goods, manufactured goods prices, or high success rate and so on. Recovery from the economic system is one way of consumption goods. Everything will be on sale before the official beta test version.You can not predict how you can benefit.

The Diablo 3 developer said," Diablo 3 "will not exist copy and modification.And Diablo 3 gold won't be abused with no constraints.They say, World of Warcraft for many years dealing with a lot of heating and most fans want them to do the same thiing.Like other successful online RPG game,players take every means to damage the economy. Diablo 3 development team did not ignore and take it serious.This site can let you buy cheap diablo 3 gold and provide you what you want and absolutely can achieve the value!


ZengT posted a comment   

PAYPAL account stolen, if the transaction is completed the final loss the PAYPAL masters, or DIABLO GOLD sellers, in addition to the purchase of GOLD are also some players to sell their GOLD to like so Diablo 3 - gold seller


ras0406 posted a comment   

A quick and simple solution is to have a separate bank account linked to your debit/EFTPOS payment cards with only your spending money in that account. That way you only stand to lose a small proportion of your savings in any one incident.

Then have another account or two, online accounts only, that contain your savings, rent and bill monies, etc. Anytime you need to make a major purchase using a card, transfer money from the online non-card-linked accounts to your card-linked spending account and then make the purchase. And perhaps avoid linking credit cards to any sort of online account unless absolutely necessary.


Joseph Hanlon posted a reply   

That is good advice. I would have said before that I am too lazy to maintain several different accounts, but this definitely has me reassessing how I organise my money online.


ras0406 posted a reply   


it's quick and easy to setup online accounts at your local bank, and they usually have no fees because they're online only. With today's access to mobile banking, it is very easy to manage multiple accounts on-the-go or at home with minimal effort. I'm sure yours is only one of many stories out there. I reckon there is an article or two for CNET in the future regarding security and management of money, cards and accounts. You could even get some input from the commercial banks about what they recommend customers do?

Until then, keep up with the good work.



AjB posted a comment   

Sorry this happened to you, but the fact is plenty of people have been exploited, hacked, cheated and generally bamboozled by Blizzard's ill thought out RMAH.

Because you are a CNET "journalist" you will get some respect from Blizzard and be treated like a living breathing customer that is to be cared about and nurtured instead of a faceless ATM machine whose sole purpose in life is to throw money at the greedy corporate culture and not have any expectations about what it receives in return.

Blizzard created this situation. Blizzard is hardly a victim here. They've made some great games and I respect them for that. But these days they are nothing but another bureaucratic corporate f--ktard.


Boss302 posted a comment   

A similar thing happened to me a couple of years back and i haven't been back to online gaming since.


Joseph Hanlon posted a reply   

It might sound strange, but this mess has actually made me want to play Diablo again.

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