Account hackers and thieves who loot magic weapons, armor and hard-won game currency from players in massively multiplayer titles such as World of Warcraft should face the same sentences as real-world thieves, a politician has suggested.

The British Member of Parliament Mike Weatherley, chief advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron on intellectual property, suggests that crimes involving virtual items with real-world monetary value should be treated in the same way as offline thefts, according to a report in The Independent.

Gamers who steal virtual items in online games such as cases where a World of Warcraft account hacked should receive the same sentences as 'real-life' thieves, the MP suggested, according to an interview with radio station NewsTalk.

World of Warcraft account hacked?

Weatherley is a player of the popular fantasy game - which is a constant target for cyber criminals due to its large player base and the correspondingly high value of in-game items. Situations where gamers find their World of Warcraft hacked are common, and cyberciminals even launder money via in-game auctions.

Speaking to Buzzfeed, the MP said that authorities should not waste time over small-scale thefts.

“It’s a scale thing as well,” he said. “If you’re a genuine hacker, so to speak, and you’ve stolen the money out of thousands of accounts, then I think that’s a general theft problem that needs to be addressed very seriously.”

Such items are commonly stolen by hackers targeting player accounts - either with malware or phishing attacks. Once an account is compromised, criminals sell items for game currency, which can be exchanged for real money on various specialist sites.

A We Live Security guide to common scams which can lead to account theft in online games outlines some of the risks online gamers face.

Most online games include mechanisms to prevent direct theft - but crimes perpetrated via malware or phishing are often punished by game companies, rather than law enforcement, via penalties such as bans, account suspenson or the deletion of large amounts of game currency.

“If you’ve spent £500 on building up your armed forces and someone takes them away online, I guess you can feel hard done-by and you want your £500 back,” Weatherley said. “People shouldn’t be doing it.”

“The perception from some people is if you steal online it’s less of a crime than if you steal physically. If it genuinely is someone who’s paid in the game and they’ve had that stolen, that’s probably no different to something in the physical world.”

Mike Penning, the Minister of State for Justice responded that sentencing in such cases was "a matter for the courts."