"Online 'Banker' Runs off with Cash, Avatars Cry Foul":

ars technica reports:

The location was EVE Online -- a science-fiction-based MMORPG, and the bank was the Eve Intergalactic Bank -- a privately run in-game institution that for several months convinced EVE Online players to deposit their spare "money" into accounts with the enticement of accruing several points of interest per month. That seemingly virtuous idea came to a crashing halt when the proprietor of the EIB, known to the game universe as "Cally," absconded with around 790 billion ... ISK -- the currency of the EVE Online world.

EIB was supposed to function much as a real bank would, turning its assets into investment capital, then using the returns to pay interest to bank clients and provide a tidy profit to the bank itself. Instead, it functioned more like a 1980s-era savings and loan, with no FSLIC to protect the clients. In short, Cally got away scot-free, even leaving behind a (rather boring) 10 minute video (download) to taunt those whose "fortunes" were lost....

[T]here has been some musing on how real-world laws might be applied in the future to bring such "criminals" to justice (we're talking about the actual human players here, not the in-game avatars).... [But] NO ACTUAL MONEY WAS STOLEN.... It is up to EVE Online to reprimand Cally -- if in fact, it is determined that he did something against the rules set forth in the EULA....

It is indeed important (though not necessarily dispositive, especially if we're talking about civil remedies) that no actual money was stolen. But there's also another important point, on which the EULA, which is to say the End-User License Agreement for the game, might be relevant though would often be silent: In games, the risk of such dishonesty may be a legitimate part of the game, just as misleading, lying, and breaking promises may in some situations be legitimate parts of offline games (certain card games, Diplomacy, and more). My guess is that most courts would and should stay out of such matters, at least unless the agreements were quite explicit that certain behavior was prohibited and would be actionable in real courts as fraud or breach of contract or the like.

Thanks to reader Jeremy Tunnell for the pointer.