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Here is a hypothetical - I have a friend who has listed on eBay photos of a Fortnite account that he found on google. He has not explicitly declared the account as his but he has put in the title of the listing his phone number for further contact. The other day I saw that he received a text from a potential customer. The customer had been brought to a conclusion where if they sent money on Apple Cash they would receive the login info for the account. Once receiving the payment my friend left the chat and blocked the payment issuer. He did not give him the login info.

Important facts of note -

  1. Epic Games Code of Conduct does not allow for account retailing and/or password sharing of any kind.
  2. eBay does not allow any selling of accounts that requires exchange of password information.
  3. The account was never in my friends posession.
  4. The conversation took part over text.
  5. This is not the first time my friend had done this.

In this scenario my main question is would my friend be legally liable - especially under the Wire Fraud Law (which is a federal crime) and would he be subject to judicial punishment. Furthermore is there a legally feasible case to made that my friend had not been legally bound to the verbal agreement because the sale was illegal in the first place (according to the applicable Epic Code of Conduct) and that therefore the agreement was legally void and the loss for the buyer was solely on behalf of the buyers mistake and recklessness. If anyone has questions about the hypothetical I am eager to embellish it further as I feel it illustrates a very interesting grey zone in Cyber Law and Cyber Jurisdiction. (also does the one who the money was taken from need to file a lawsuit agains the seller or will a federal crime investigation body seek out the seller and attempt to press chargers.) Apologies for any lack of clarity I am not well versed in law protocol and language.

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The theory that the contract was void because of illegality is probably a non-starter, for the simple reason that violating terms of service is not illegal. It's a breach of contract, and if necessary the company could take you to court to enforce the contract, but that's not a crime. Your friend is free to create a contract of sale that requires them to violate the contract they previously made with the company offering a service. It may not be a good idea, but it's their right.

Regardless, it is illegal to knowingly keep another person's property that is in your possession and which you have no legal right to. In order to not be guilty of theft from the customer, your friend would have to have some reasonable basis to believe that they were entitled to the money.

For example, in Washington state:

(1) "Theft" means:

(a) To wrongfully obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services.

Or, in the UK:

A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it;

Any assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to an appropriation, and this includes, where he has come by the property (innocently or not) without stealing it, any later assumption of a right to it by keeping or dealing with it as owner.

This is tricky for your friend, because pretty much the only ways you could believe you were entitled to that money are a) because it was consideration for a contract of sale, or b) the customer just likes giving money to random people they met online for no particular reason, having previously discussed buying things from that person for that quantity of money. Scenario b will probably have difficulty meeting the "reasonable person" standard.

More likely, your friend will have to come down on one of two scenarios:

  • They formed a contract to sell property (which they did not possess and which they never intended to provide to the customer) in exchange for money. This is fraud.

  • They took possession of money knowing it belonged to someone else, having no reasonable basis to think otherwise, and took no steps to rectify the situation. This is theft.

In either case, the customer is entitled to their money back, regardless of whether or not any crime is charged. It's still their money, not your friend's.

The question of whether this would be a state/local or federal offense is more of a procedural and practical one than a legal one. Technically, assuming that there is fraud, the use of text messages to carry it out probably makes it wire fraud. But realistically, the FBI doesn't have the resources to prosecute every two-bit eBay scammer. And as a matter of principle, US federal law enforcement generally defers to states in cases without clear federal jurisdiction.

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  • Thank you for the answer. In terms of the state deferral to what degree do you presume this would remain true. What if my friend were to say made, $10,000 from various different people never taking more then $100 from one person. What if he made $100,000? Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 15:49
  • I don't think it has to do with the specific dollar amount, rather with whether the state can bring charges on its own that are sufficient or whether it needs the cooperation of other state and federal agencies.
    – Cadence
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 21:15
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Contract killing is illegal

That doesn’t mean that people who kill for money can raise as a defence “what the guy that hired me wanted was illegal”.

Your friend is committing (state) fraud and (Federal) wire fraud and could receive a loooong custodial sentence if convicted. Unlike someone who hires a contract killer, his victims have less reason to worry about reporting him because what they have done is merely a breach of contract (if they even have a contract with the game maker), not a crime.

Oh, and even if he’s never caught, tell your friend to stop being an arsehole.

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  • I think the better analogy would be someone who sold people contract killings that they then proceed to not carry out (because murder is illegal).
    – nick012000
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 10:36

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