Ads Inc. it closes, but the tools they used to scam millions of Facebook users have survived

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In the fall of 2019, Facebook sent a termination and termination letter to Ads Inc., a San Diego-based marketing company that bought more than $ 50 million in Facebook ads who used celebrity images without their permission to trick people into signing up for hard-to-cancel monthly subscriptions.

Ads Inc. he responded by firing its staff and ending its operations, saying in a statement that it “stopped running Ads Inc. and its affiliates.”

But Facebook has not been able to keep the company’s remains off its platform, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation with an international consortium of journalists led by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter and the Organized Crime and Corruption Information Project .

Until it closed in April, ezlp.io, a web domain that Ads Inc. previously controlled, hosted pages that promoted scams, including counterfeit cryptocurrency investments that had economically devastated people in more than 50 countries. It is unknown who now controls ezlp.io. The Facebook accounts that the company used to run ads on are also still active. These accounts were transferred to a new unknown owner earlier this year, according to a source familiar with the transaction.

Corporate records in California and Puerto Rico show that Ads Inc. is still an active company, but sources tell BuzzFeed News that the company sold or otherwise disposed of the assets it could, including some of its rented Facebook accounts – and has been dormant since last fall. Ads Inc. was founded by Asher Burke, who died in a helicopter crash in Kenya in March 2019. The company is now owned by his estate, whose executor is Brad Burke, Asher’s father. Brad Burke did not respond to any emails or messages sent through Facebook or his wife and daughter.

Facebook has promised to stay away from these types of ads.

We don’t want ads that want to scam people on Facebook: they’re not good for people, they erode trust in our services and damage our business, ”Rob Leathern, director of product management, told BuzzFeed News of Facebook. “To combat this, we work not only to detect and reject ads on their own, but to block advertisers from our services and, in some cases, take them to court. While there is no perfect app, we continue to investigate new technologies and methods to stop these ads that infringe on the rights and people behind them. “

Continuation of the operation of the former assets of Ads Inc. highlights the way Facebook can’t completely eliminate scammers.

In July, Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen discovered that his image was being used in an ad posted by someone unknown that was promoting cryptocurrency investment scams. Exasperated, he wrote to Facebook’s head of EU Affairs, Aura Salla, to complain.

“So far we have discovered that this scam has been done in an extraordinarily clever way,” Salla wrote in Messenger, apologizing. “The amount of these scams is so huge that it is not possible to verify them through human labor.”

Before closing, Ads Inc. he earned more than a million dollars in commissions by promoting counterfeit cryptocurrency trading products that lured people to financial ruin.

“I have nothing to live on” dit Maj-Britt, a 67-year-old Swede who became homeless after losing her life savings and selling her home to cover losses in a similar home fraud in investments in cryptocurrencies. (He asked not to publish his full name to protect his privacy.)

Facebook ads absorbed victims who falsely claimed that celebrities had made money using automated cryptocurrency trading software with names like Bitcoin Revolution and Bitcoin Code. People were asked to click to enter their personal information. This information was sent to call centers that track phones within minutes to request money. Actually, software does not exist and its benefits are a mirage.

Earlier this year, Dagens Nyheter, the OCCCRP and other media partners published the Fraud factory investigation, which went inside a cryptographic call center in Ukraine, operated by a shady company called Milton Group. After the stories surfaced, a source who claimed to work for law enforcement contacted Dagens Nyheter.

“I saw a screenshot of [one of] the famous ads you used to illustrate one of your stories. This ad was produced by Ads Inc. “, wrote and shared a link to an online database, ezlp.io, which contained tens of thousands of web pages in various languages ​​that used celebrity images to promote cryptocurrency investment deals. Those were the pages that Ads Inc. sent to users to convince them to deliver personal information.

The company made no effort to disguise its ownership. On the site’s home page was a login screen that said “Welcome to Ads Inc.” Several sources confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it belonged to Ads Inc.

The OCCCRP found approximately 15,000 pages on ezlp.io promoting at least 17 different investment offers in 11 languages. Some of the products have been the subject of public warnings by regulators in at least eight countries, dating back to 2018. The relationship between Ads Inc., the people who bought its assets and the Milton Group is unclear, but there are several investment brands found on ezlp.io also appear in the Milton Group documents.

It looks like this business was lucrative. Ads Inc. began promoting investments in cryptography in the second quarter of 2019. A slide presentation at a company meeting in July 2019 included “crypto” as one of the company’s “profits to celebrate,” generating 1.15 million of dollars in commission income this quarter. The paper said cryptography generated a 120% return on investment, making it the company’s most profitable vertical and a major priority for the next quarter.

It is unclear whether the site passed control of Ads Inc. after the company intended to stop working. But it was still being updated with new content until it got dark on April 25, six months after Ads Inc. he would say he had stopped operating.

Internal discussions on Facebook obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal that the company continues to track the activity of former Ads Inc. employees. It is not clear what actions have been taken.

“My team is still investigating former employees to understand the current state of their operation after the company’s dissolution,” a threat researcher wrote on Facebook at Workplace, the company’s internal discussion platform. company, in October.



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