The BBC reports (brought to our attention by the proper-reporter-blokes at Gamesindustry.biz) that a teenager has been arrest for the theft of virtual items in ludicrously popular chatroom Habbo Hotel. 4000 Euros (which is 2,840 pounds or nearly 190 copies of Peggle) of goods were stolen my a seventeen-year old mischievous scamp who now faces a spell in chokey (Probably). An Artful-Dodger-esque collection of five other fifteen year olds were also questioned.
So, does this open the door for prosecutions against that git who stole your sword of Scarab-slaying +3? Nah, probably not. The key thing here appears to be that the furniture items were purchased with real-world money, making them - according to the police in their Holland headquarters - have real value and equivalent of real world scams. In most games, there's no official way to buy better equipment, so the same isn't true. Even in games with a micro-payment system, I suspect that the difference between being scammed in Habbo and them will be the difference between being scammed by a market-stall trader and someone bluffing you in a game of Poker. When you sat down at the table, you accept that may happen. It may be ungentlemanly and be cracked down on by the GM but, I suspect, the police will stay clear.
Of course, this is a debate that's raged for years with some of gaming's biggest brains chipping in. I'm sure you have a take.