[toc]Four US men wrote computer software that allowed them to illegally obtain millions of dollars in virtual currency related to a sports video game, and then sold that currency for liquid cash, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas on Wednesday convicted 24-year-old Anthony Clark of Whittier, CA, on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection to his involvement in a FIFA coin scandal.
Prosecutors presented evidence at a recent three-day trial that they said indicates Clark and three co-conspirators “defrauded” Electronic Arts, the maker of the popular FIFA soccer video game series, of coins.
How FIFA Ultimate Team works
During FIFA gameplay, gamers can earn FIFA coins. This virtual currency can be used to acquire new players for a team, particularly in what’s called FIFA Ultimate Team mode.
FUT mode emphasizes the marketplace-driven acquisition of new players using a virtual currency.
Gamers in FUT mode develop their own team and acquire coins upon the completion of various milestones. The most coins a player can win purely from match play is 500.
They can then use coins to improve their teams by acquiring new players when they purchase “player packs.”
While coins are not sold by EA for cash, FIFA “points” are sold by the game maker for cash. Points can be used to purchase players packs.
Prosecutors say that these transactions bring in millions of dollars per year for EA.
Clark, conspirators acquired $16 million in coins
Prosectors said Clark and his co-conspirators at some point beginning in 2013, “created software that fraudulently logged thousands of FIFA Football matches within a matter of seconds.”
Resultantly, EA credited the four men with so many “improperly earned” FIFA coins that they were able to turn around and sell them for $16 million, prosecutors said.
Coins are not intended to have a real-world value outside of the game’s ecosystem.
However, third-party virtual currency markets such as MMOGA, BuyFifaCoins and FifaUTStore have sprung up in recent years, allowing players to acquire coins (usually for cash) outside of EA’s online marketplace.
While there is no widely adopted coins-to-USD exchange rate, as there is with a currency like Bitcoin, 100,000 coins from the newly released 2017 version of the game appear to sell for around $20.
The actual number of coins obtained by Clark and the others is unclear. Prosecutors did not mention the specific third-party sites the men used to liquidate the coins, but did say that they sold to buyers in China and the United Kingdom.
The other conspirators are each 24 years old as well: Nick Castellucci of New Jersey, Ricky Miller of Texas, and Eaton Zveare of Virginia. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 27.
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Unsealed indictment specifies tactics used
An unsealed indictment, first reported by Vocativ’s Joe Lemire, illustrates exactly how the men constructed a program to illegally obtain coins.
The men obtained a copy of FIFA’s source code. They then used that to created something called a FIFA Server Tool Application that utilized cloud computing and a match simulator to make it appear as if they were playing a massive volume of matches.
Multiple accounts, all simulating a high volume of matches, would “farm” points, and share them with a master account. At one point, the group boasted it acquired 67 million coins through this process in one hour.
Authorities seized approximately $3 million from multiple bank accounts registered in Clark’s name, as well as two cars found at his home.
Authorities also seized assets from seven separate accounts connected to Zveare. Three of those accounts were registered under not just Eaton’s name, but also that of an Eric Zveare and Janet Zveare. A fourth account was registered as the Zveare Family Trust.
It’s unclear if Eric and Janet are Eaton’s parents, but the trio appear to have bought a house in Sarasota, FL, in 2015 for $2 million.
The group referred to themselves by the acronym RANE, and formed a Virginia-based company called RANE Developments, LLC.
The registration documents for RANE Developments lists as its principal office address the Florida home purchased by Eaton, Eric, and Janet.
Indictment lays out Wire Fraud violation
Clark was found in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, a statute of the US Criminal Code which prohibits defrauding or obtaining money through the transmission of anything over a wire, radio, or television communication.
The indictment reads:
“The defendant, Anthony Clark, knowingly and intentionally combined, conspired and agreed with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to execute and attempt to execute the above described scheme and artifice to defraud, and attempting to do so, and transmitted and caused to be transmitted, by means of wire and radio communications in interstate and/or foreign commerce, certain writings, signs, signals and sounds, including causing an “application” to be executed on EA’ s servers from various locations throughout the United States.”
Other FIFA coin fraud persists
This is not the first time regulators have cracked down on gamers for conducting illegal commerce using FIFA coins.
Two UK men associated with the site FutGalaxy were charged earlier this year by the UK Gambling Commission with violating that country’s national gambling law.
Their site allowed FIFA players to buy player packs, just as EA’s online FIFA marketplace does, but also allowed gamers to use coins to bet, sportsbook-style, on the outcome of real-life soccer matches.
EA explicitly prohibits the sale of coins on third-party websites. It is believed to have taken action against some individual gamers, banning those who it has found to have purchased coins with real money.