American company Ads Inc. rented accounts from housewives and placed through them targeted advertising of fake news. Through these ads, employees sold cheap goods to older people and were thus lured into a fraudulent trap with an expensive subscription, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed News.
After paying for the subscription, users could not cancel it, and in the meantime, the cost grew several times. Facebook approved targeted ads and could not track the fraudulent scheme. The publication gained access to internal documents of the company, correspondence in Slack and records of employee flyers – after the publication of the investigation, the company closed.
- In 2016, Asher Burke founded Ads Inc. in San Diego, California, which started a fraudulent Facebook business. They earned over ten million dollars a year. At the head office 20 employees worked;
- The scheme was as follows. The user saw the scandalous news in his Facebook feed about the arrest, death or retirement of a celebrity. The link opens an article identical in design to tabloids or news sites like Fox News or TMZ. At the end, it was pointed out that the celebrity uses the “excellent cream”, which can be tried by subscription for a “low price” of five dollars (325 rubles);
- Employees of the company told the publication that they sold by subscription “the worst of the worst Chinese products,” including diet pills and potency boosters;
- During the week, about a hundred dollars (about 6500 rubles) were debited from the card. The user could only cancel the subscription by phone number, which was difficult to reach;
- All the victims were about the same age – baby boomers (people who were born between 1946 and 1964). The target was specifically configured for the category of users of the social network, which, most likely, will lead to fakes and online scams;
- Employees at Ads Inc. intentionally chose celebrities who are interested in older people – Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Carrie Underwood, Morgan Freeman, Billy Ray Cyrus;
- Facebook prohibits the use of celebrity photos to spread false information. Ads Inc. outwitted social network recognition systems – each article led to a “safe page” if the user who clicked on the link did not fit the target criteria. For example, Facebook employees ended up on a blog page about food, not fake news;
- Subscription fraud is only part of the illegal business of Ads Inc. The company also rented accounts from ordinary users to advertise fake news through them;
- Leased accounts allowed to circumvent Facebook moderation. Targeted ads were launched from different pages and paid with different cards. Moderators could block individual pages, but did not understand that they act together;
- Ads Inc. rented accounts with housewives for 15-30 dollars (one to two thousand rubles) per month. The company paid up to one hundred dollars (about six thousand rubles) to bring friends or relatives to the system;
- After the user agreed to rent an account, he was asked to change the settings for the ability to run ads and send screenshots of the entire Ads Inc. process Then, a Raspberry Pi computer was sent by mail, which connected to the home router. This allowed the company’s employees to remotely purchase advertising through the user’s page on Facebook;
- From each account, an employee from the Philippines who was paid three dollars per hour (about 200 rubles) created a community page with a typical name like “Salad Lovers” or “Beyoncé Fans”. Then the employee “warmed it up” – put an avatar, published content and bought advertising for about $ 200 (about 13 thousand rubles) for promotion. When a page got likes, they launched targeted ads with fake celebrity news;
- By the end of 2018, Burke decided to transfer his business to the legal sector and planned to enter into a partnership with entrepreneur Christopher Lander. Head of Ads Inc. I wanted to start selling goods via the Internet and by the end of 2019 launch 12 brands;
- In March 2019, Burke with a girl and friends went on vacation to a villa in Kenya. After a helicopter ride, they were on the island, and soon a strong wind began and night fell. Despite the fact that pilots are forbidden to fly in the dark, the businessman insisted on a dangerous flight and crashed to death;
- After the death of Burke, the merger with Lander was canceled. Burke Deputy Eric Meyers became CEO of Ads Inc., the company continued to engage in fraud;
- On October 10, Meyers announced to employees that the company would nevertheless become legal and switch to selling health products. He changed the strategy due to the fact that the journalist BuzzFeed News sent Facebook requests for Ads Inc. After that, the social network banned the company’s activities on its platform;
- Before publishing an investigation by Ads Inc. announced its closure – this was news for company employees.