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Secretary of State Connie Lawson
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[SOS] Secretary of State investigation leads to arrest in virtual land scam
Start Date: 4/14/2015 All Day
End Date: 4/14/2015
Entry Description

Pennsylvania man allegedly sold virtual real estate through an online game  

INDIANAPOLIS (April 13, 2014) — An investigation by Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s Prosecution Assistance Unit led to the arrest of Josh Bills of Pennsylvania for allegedly selling virtual land investments in an online game called Second Life. Bills was arrested in Pennsylvania over the weekend to face criminal charges in Morgan County.

“Real estate schemes are some of the most common forms of investment fraud that come across my desk, but this is the first time we’ve seen a virtual land scam,” said Secretary Lawson. “I hope this case serves as a reminder to check with my office to ensure the investment is registered before investing.

“I would also like to thank Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega for his work. This arrest would not be possible without him.”

The investigation began when the Secretary of State’s office received a complaint about Bills. In the complaint, it stated that a loan agreement was made with Bills for $53,500 for the purposes of expanding his online real estate company. Bills was to use the money to purchase land that he would manage through his company, within the game Second Life, in exchange for a promissory note that would pay $10,000 for the investment within 24 months.  

The game Second Life appears as virtual land. As explained in its advertising, Second Life virtual land is like a 3D website: a blank space where you can make anything happen and it is accessible 24/7 by other players. Players can purchase, develop and sell the land to other players. Although it appears as land, this virtual land is actually storage space on a server.

Players can purchase products and services through the game using U.S. Dollars. Second Life also advertises the ability of entrepreneurs to try out new business opportunities within the game and reap real life rewards. This is accomplished by developing a new product or service within the game and having other players purchase the product or service directly from the owner outside the game.

In this case, the victim rented a home in the game for her avatar from Bills. He suggested she invest with him to buy more land within the game so he could manage it and make both of them money. Bills did not invest the money as promised. During the time he was suppose to invest the money, Bill sent $3,256.10 to Second Life and $37,900 to an E*Trade investment account. 

Neither Bills nor the product he offered were licensed in the State of Indiana. All Securities professionals and investment products must be licensed.

 “Investors should always check with the Secretary of State’s office to make sure they are investing in a legitimate investment,” said Indiana Securities Commissioner Carol Mihalik. “This case is the perfect example of how a simple background check could save your precious investment dollars. I cannot stress how important it is to always make sure the investment advisor and their product are always registered.”

The charges are merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


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