image Imagine for a moment that you operated a store in a mall.  You sell handmade crafts.  You make these crafts in a workshop in the back of the store.  You sell barely enough to pay your rent but you enjoy it and you have plans to sell more items in the future.  You've been operating for nearly two years in this mall without incident.  Now imagine that you go into your store one morning and it's padlocked shut.  It must be a terrible mistake you think.  You call the mall's rental office to learn that for some reason last month’s rent check had bounced.  You complain that you never received a notice.  They claim that a notice was left with one of your employees, but apparently you didn't get it.  They agree, as a courtesy, to allow you to open your store once again.  But here is the catch: they have already disposed of all property in the store and workshop.  Not only are all your crafts gone, but also all of the equipment you have acquired, at great expense, to make your crafts.  Everything that you acquired over the last two years of operation is gone, never to return.  The value of this equipment far exceeds the amount of rent on which you were late.

Now let's take this to a next level.  Imagine that the mall management also manages the credit union in which you deposit your income.  Furthermore, other banks are forbidden from operating in the mall, so you are forced to use mall management’s credit union.  Now, imagine that when they shut down your store and seized your equipment they also took all the money in your account.  They took a year’s worth of income — twenty times the amount you owed in rent.  It’s all gone, and they refuse to return your money.

Can you imagine this scenario?  It's absurd, right?  Well it happened to me!

Mid January I discovered that my SecondLife (SL) account was disabled.  For those that don't know: second Life an Internet-based virtual world well known for it's legal trading of the in-world currency. I instantly called SL support to discover that sometime around Christmas 2007 my SecondLife account was disabled after becoming delinquent by $5.26 on a $9.95 monthly charge.  I didn't realize this because, like many others, I was busy with Christmas, New Years, and such.  SecondLife claims I was sent a billing notice, but no such notice can be found in my e-mail even though I keep all of my e-mails, including spam going back 60 days.  Ok, fine — just re-establish your account and move on, right?

They re-established my account and removed the $5.26 debt "as a courtesy."  I soon found that all of my assets were gone.  Everything that I had purchased in SL was gone.  Everything that I had built in SL was gone.  Yes, these were virtual assets, but they were purchased with virtual money that is supposedly backed by the US dollar.  My SecondLife is over!  My virtual life was snuffed out over a $5.26 debt.  Even worse my SecondLife business was destroyed.

Some background: Over a year ago I had developed a script in SecondLife that allowed others to add access control to objects in SL (imagine a door sentry for SecondLife objects).  It was actually a very complex piece of code that I spent many hours on.  I started selling this code in SecondLife and made enough money to offset the cost of my SL subscription ($9.95 per month).  And, for those that don't know, this is not only legal in SL but encouraged as a reason to join.  They even claim that users retain copyright of all content they create in SL. I was operating a legitimate business in SL.  In 2006 I earned enough money to prepay my SL account for almost all of 2007.  This is what allowed my account to be delinquent by $5.26.  I didn't notice that the money had run out, nor did I notice that my credit card on file had expired. I also never received an overdue notice; perhaps due to an error on the part of SecondLife billing system, or due to an e-mail server error.

I soon realized that in addition to missing my assets, all of my virtual money was gone also.  I had 46,493 virtual dollars in my account when it was shut down (this value was given to me by the SL billing department).  This was all of my 2007 income, equivalent to approximately $180 real world dollars.  This money was intended to offset the $9.95 SL subscription fees.  SL has refused to return my money.  They have seized $180 in cash and an unknown value in personal property over a $5.26 overdue bill.  Virtual or not, this is highway robbery.  I think I could have gotten a better deal with the mafia.

It’s been two weeks since my account was "restored". I was able to recover a copy of my locking script from a vendor in world but everything I was working on or purchased is gone. SecondLife has refused to return any portion of the virtual money that was lost. After repeated request for an explanation this is the best I get from support:

When an account is purged most, if not all of the inventory and lindens in it are lost. Unfortunately there is nothign [sic] we cna [sic] do to recover the lost inventory.

I have lost all confidence in SL. I encourage others to tread cautiously when it comes to virtual assets.