Online game players have become some of the most vulnerable victims of computer hacking and deception, with the number of cases jumping tenfold to a record high last year. The police recorded 288 cases of computer hacking and fraud relating to online games last year, compared with 27 the previous year. These cases made up about half of 588 computer-related offences last year, which more than doubled from 272 in the previous year. The other cases included bank thefts and e-mail scams. In the online games cases, computers were hacked into to steal virtual weapons, playing time credits or characters from the games, said Vincent Wong Fook-chuen, chief superintendent of the Commercial Crime Unit. Other scams involved talking a player into trading a weapon for virtual cash, but giving nothing in return. People who play computer games on the internet are more vulnerable to these attacks because some of them play without firewalls to protect their computers. Some gaming providers require gamers to disable the firewalls to ensure better communication with the computer server, said Kenny Cheung Shing-kwong, a Polytechnic University lecturer who specialises in game technology. The surge in the number of cases is related to the growing popularity of online games, mostly among teenage boys. They pay a monthly fee or buy a game-time coupon to play on the internet. These are mostly role-playing games, where the players choose characters from movies such as The Lord of the Rings. The virtual weapons are acquired through long hours of gaming and are considered key prizes, allowing players to access hidden areas of games and play at a more challenging level. 'It depends on how deeply the players are involved,' Mr Cheung said. 'Sometimes, the weapons are beyond the value of money because these people could have been playing for half a year in order to buy them [with virtual money]. It brings them a lot of satisfaction.' To one 16-year-old boy, the loss of his virtual possessions meant his life. The boy from Kwai Chung jumped to his death in 2002 after having all his weapons from an ancient warrior role-playing game stolen by another player.