Ads Inc. Shut down, but the tools you used to trick Facebook users out of the millions survived


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In the fall of 2019, Facebook sent a cease and desist letter to Ads Inc. , Which is a San Diego-based marketing company He has bought over $ 50 million in Facebook ads That used photos of celebrities without their permission to trick people into signing up for hard-to-cancel monthly subscriptions.

Ads Inc. To lay off its employees and terminate its operations, saying in a statement that it “stops the operations of Ads Inc. and its subsidiaries”.

But Facebook has not been able to keep the remnants of the company away from 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 Reporting Project.

Until its shutdown in April, it hosted ezlp.io, a web domain Ads Inc. Previously it is governed by pages promoting fraud, including fake cryptocurrency investments it has People with financial devastation in more than 50 countries. It is not known who is currently controlling ezlp.io. The Facebook accounts that the company used to place ads are also still active. These accounts were transferred to an anonymous new owner earlier this year, according to a source familiar with the process.

Corporate records in California and Puerto Rico show that Ads Inc. It’s still an active company, but sources tell BuzzFeed News that the company sold or disposed of any assets it could – including some of its assets. Rented Facebook Accounts – He’s been sleeping since last fall. Ads Inc. It was founded by Asher Burke, who died in a helicopter crash in Kenya in March 2019. The company now owns his property, which was executed by Brad Burke, Asher’s father. Brad Burke has not responded to an email or messages sent through Facebook and emails to his wife and daughter.

Facebook has pledged to banish these types of ads.

“We don’t want ads that seek to trick people into getting money on Facebook – they are not good for people, undermine confidence in our services and harm our business,” Rob Leathern, Director of Product Management at Facebook, told BuzzFeed News. “To combat this, we are not only working to discover and reject the ads themselves, we are also working to block advertisers from our services and, in some cases, bring them to court. Although there is no perfect application, we continue to investigate new technologies and methods to stop these infringing ads and people Who are behind it. “

Confirms the ongoing operation of Ads Inc. assets. Previous how Facebook is unable to completely remove fraudsters.

In July, Finnish actor Jasper Päkkönen discovered that his image was being used in an advertisement run by an unknown person pushing cryptocurrency investment scams. Angrily, he wrote to Facebook’s head of EU affairs, Ura Sala, to complain.

Sala wrote again on Messenger, introducing her apology: “So far we have discovered that this fraud was executed with extraordinary intelligence. The amount of these scams is so huge that it cannot be verified by human labor.

Before it closed, Ads Inc. Over a million dollars in commissions by promoting fake cryptocurrency trading products that lured people into financial ruin.

“I have nothing to live for” She said Mag Britt, a 67-year-old Swedish woman who becomes homeless after losing her life savings and selling her home to cover losses in a similar accident. Fraud in investing in cryptocurrency. (She requested that her full name not be published in order to preserve her privacy).

Victims were sucked in by Facebook ads falsely claiming that celebrities have made money using automated cryptocurrency trading programs with names like Bitcoin Revolution and Bitcoin Code. People were asked to click to enter their personal information. This information is sent to call centers who follow up over the phone within minutes to request money. Actually the program does not exist and its profits are a mirage.

Earlier this year, Dagens Nyheter published the OCCRP and other media partners Factory fraud investigation, Which has penetrated deep into a crypto call center in Ukraine run by a shadowy company called Milton Group. After the stories surfaced, a source who claimed to be law enforcement contacted Dagens Nyheter.

I saw a screen shot of [one of] The celebrity ads you used to illustrate one of your stories. This ad is produced by Ads Inc. , And they wrote and shared a link to an online database, ezlp.io, containing tens of thousands of webpages in multiple languages ​​that used photos of celebrities to promote crypto investment offers. These were the landing pages submitted by Ads Inc. To people to persuade them to hand over personal information.

The company made no effort to conceal its ownership. The site’s homepage included a login screen that read “Welcome to Ads Inc.” Multiple sources have confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it is affiliated with Ads Inc.

OCCRP found nearly 15,000 pages on ezlp.io that promoted at least 17 different investment offers in 11 languages. Some products have been the subject of public warnings from regulators in at least eight countries, dating back to 2018. Relationship between Ads Inc. The people who bought its assets and the Milton Group are unclear, but the many cryptocurrencies investment brands featured on ezlp.io have also been listed in Milton Group’s documents.

It looks like the business has been profitable. Ads Inc. In promoting cryptocurrency investments in the second quarter of 2019. A slide presentation at a company meeting in July 2019 incorporated the word “crypto” as one of the company’s “celebration winners”, generating $ 1.15 million in commission income for that quarter. The document said the cryptocurrency generated a 120% return on investment, making it the company’s most profitable sector and a key priority for the next quarter.

It is unclear if the site has moved out of Ads Inc.’s control. After the company claimed that it has stopped working or not. But it was still updating with new content until it went dark on April 25 – six months after Ads Inc. It ceased its operations.

Internal discussions on Facebook obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal that the company continues to track Ads Inc. employee activity. Ex. It is unclear what, if any, measures were taken.

“My team is currently investigating former employees to understand the current state of their operations following the dissolution of the company,” a Facebook threat investigator at Workplace, the company’s internal discussion platform, wrote in October.


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