Fraudster pleads guilty to Second Life scam

When a stranger offers an opportunity to turn a quick buck, it is time to walk away or at the very least do some due diligence, even if the deal involves Linden Dollars.

After pleading guilty to theft as a class D felony in a Marion County court, Joshua Bills was sentenced late last month to three years of probation after paying full restitution of $53,500 to the victim.

“This was certainly a unique case in that it dealt with online, virtual real estate,” Indiana Securities Commissioner Alex Glass said in a statement. “However, upon examination of the facts, this case is very similar to a conventional real estate investment scheme. Con artists are always finding new and unique ways to scam trusting individuals out of their hard earned money.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is to remain vigilant and ensure those offering investments as well as the financial products themselves are registered with the Secretary of State’s Office.”

Following up on a formal complaint, an investigation by the Securities Division of the office found Bills spent only a small portion of funds he received from the victim on a Second Life project for which he had solicited participation.

Individuals play the game through avatars they create to interact with the avatars of other players. The avatars live in a virtual world where they can create, develop and sell virtual property to others, using Linden dollars for the transactions.

Linden dollars can be earned, or purchased from Linden Labs with U.S. dollars. The victim’s avatar rented property from Bills’ avatar and he solicited an investment of $53,500 to buy additional real estate in Second Life.

A promissory note he offered was to pay $10,000 after 24 months, but neither Bills nor the product he offered were licensed in Indiana.

“Fortunately, the victim in this case filed a complaint with our office and was able to recover damages. If you or anyone you know suspects they have been the victim of financial fraud, contact my office immediately,” Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in the statement.

“Too often cases of fraud go unreported. This allows fraudsters to continue to victimize others and decreases the chances victims will recover losses.”

To research securities professionals operating in Indiana, go to a database the office operates online at or call (317) 232-6681.

Campaign attacks coal, promotes renewable power

The Sierra Club brought an advertising campaign to Fort Wayne, where Indiana Michigan Power is headquartered, early this month in an attempt to accelerate I&M’s transition from coal-fired power plants to renewable power sources.

The environmental activist organization enlisted campaign support from Citizens Action Coalition and other consumer and community groups, saying it is needed because I&M has filed plans with the state for a $3 billion retrofit of its AEP-Rockport plant, which would keep the coal-fired facility operating at least until 2035.

A message Sierra Club put on a Fort Wayne billboard addressed I&M and said, “I’m for clean energy not corporate tax loopholes.” It included contrasting photos of a field of wind turbines and of a coal-fired power plant emitting billows of smoke.

One of the plant’s boilers is leased by Citigroup, General Electric Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Philip Morris International and Verizon Communications, according to a Sierra Club statement that said the arrangement reduces the companies’ income taxes.

The club and the coalition favor what they referred to in a statement as “a lower-cost plan that would phase out half the plant by 2022 and invest instead in cleaner energy that could include locally based solar, wind and energy efficiency.”

“It’s time to stop wasting billions of ratepayer dollars in yesterday, and instead, invest in tomorrow,” Kerwin Olson, CAC executive director, said in the statement. “Communities like Fort Wayne need I&M, their public utility, to generate local jobs and investment, not (tax) shelters.”

The Rockport facility is I&M’s only coal-fired plant and the company has it is needed, at least for now, to help provide reliable energy at affordable prices.

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