The FBI has charged a 47-year-old man with stealing thousands to use on the online browser game Evony, best known in the gaming community for some rather sleazy advertisement tactics involving gratuitous amounts of cleavage.
Defendant David Buchanan, who lives in Molokai, Hawaii, was charged with wire fraud yesterday following a five-month FBI investigation. In conversations with the FBI, Buchanan admitted to the crime and plans to plead guilty on May 8, according to FBI special agent Tom Simon.
"He took responsibility for his actions," Simon said on the phone this afternoon. Buchanan had been unemployed after time in prison following a previous charge for investment fraud.
In conversations with Buchanan, Simon found that he spent a lot of time playing Evony. "He was clearly a bit of a shut-in," Simon said. "This was the world he lived in."
Simon, who headed up the investigation, says the victim of Buchanan's wire fraud reached out to the FBI late last year. The victim, a woman whose full name was not released but who goes by the initials V.S., gave $40,000 to Buchanan, who claimed to be a financial advisor. Buchanan allegedly promised V.S. a 650% rate of return on her investment, claiming he would turn $40,000 into $300,000, according to court documents.
Simon said that an investigation into both bank accounts revealed that Buchanan had instead spent the money on himself, an online girlfriend, and a video game.
"As a middle-aged, admittedly square, FBI Special Agent who doesn't play video games, I was understandably perplexed when, during the 'follow the money' analysis, I kept seeing payments being made to something I'd never heard of called Evony," Simon said. "A bit of Googling properly identified Evony as an online video game of sorts, but I was still puzzled how anyone could possibly spend thousands of dollars on a video game. I wasn't being judgmental about the societal value of gaming. I was just dumbfounded that any video game could possibly cost that much."
With some assistance from a Las Vegas-based podcast host named Mike Steele, Simon learned about free-to-play games like Evony and the microtransactions they use to turn a profit.
"While the charging document does not specify the total spent on Evony, I can tell you that it was a significant amount—well into the thousands of dollars—both going directly to Evony as well as Evony payments made through Facebook," Simon said.
Though Evony—a simulation game heavily inspired by Civilization—is free to play, it allows players to use real money buy items, send chat messages, and do all sorts of other things not available for free. Since it was first released in 2009, Evony has come under fire for a number of controversial tactics, including the use of advertisements filled with stock photos from porn websites.
If Buchanan pleads guilty on May 8, as expected, the sentencing will take place later this year.