In the fall of 2019, Facebook sent a decommissioning letter to Ads Inc., a marketing firm in San Diego. bought more than 50 million dollars in Facebook ads used photos of celebrities without their permission to trick people into subscribing to hard-to-cancel monthly subscriptions.
Ads Inc. responded by layoffs and terminated the staff, stating in a statement that they “shut down Ads Inc.” and its affiliates ”.
But Facebook has been unable to keep the rest of the company off its platform, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation with a group of international journalists led by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter and the Crime Reporting Project and Organized corruption.
Until decommissioned in April, ezlp.io, a web domain that Ads Inc. has previously controlled, has hosted pages promoting phishing, including fake crypto investments financially devastated in more than 50 countries. Don’t know who currently controls ezlp.io. The Facebook accounts the company uses to place ads are also active. According to a source familiar with the operation, these accounts were transferred to a new, unknown owner earlier this year.
Company profiles in California and Puerto Rico show Ads Inc. is still an active company, but sources tell BuzzFeed News the company has sold off or dispose of any possible assets – including some leased Facebook account – and has been inactive 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 property, run by Brad Burke, Asher’s father. Brad Burke does not respond to emails or text messages sent via Facebook and email his wife and daughter.
Facebook has announced it will remove these types of ads.
“We don’t want ads that try to cheat people on Facebook – they’re bad for everyone, undermining trust in our services and damaging our business, ”said Rob Leathern, Facebook’s product manager, told BuzzFeed News. “To combat this, we’re not only working to self-detect and disavow ads, but also block advertisers from our services and, in some cases, take them to court. While there is no perfect enforcement, we continue to investigate new technologies and methods to prevent these infringing ads and the people behind them.
Continuation of previous Ads Inc. assets stress that Facebook cannot completely eliminate scammers.
In July, Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen discovered his image being used in an advertisement by someone unknown to commit a cryptocurrency investment scam. Outraged, he wrote to Facebook’s head of EU affairs, Aura Salla, to complain.
“So far, we have found out that this scam is done in an exceptionally smart way,” Salla wrote on Messenger and apologized. “The number of these scams is so great that it is impossible to test them with human labor.
Before closing, Ads Inc. has earned over $ 1 million in commissions by promoting fake cryptocurrency trading products to lure people into financial ruin.
“I have nothing to live with,” to speak Maj-Britt, a 67-year-old Swedish woman, became homeless after losing her savings and had to sell her home to make up for losses in a similar case. fraud in electronic money investment. (She requested not to publish her full name to protect her privacy.)
Victims lured by Facebook ads falsely claim that celebrities made money using automated cryptocurrency trading software with names like Bitcoin Revolution and Bitcoin Code. People are asked to click through to enter their personal information. That information was sent to the telephone contact centers within minutes to request the money. In reality, software doesn’t exist and their profits are an illusion.
Earlier this year, Dagens Nyheter, OCCRP and other media partners published Factory Fraud Investigation, went deep inside a crypto call center in Ukraine run by a dark company called Milton Group. After these stories appeared, a source claiming to work in law enforcement contacted Dagens Nyheter.
“I have seen a screenshot from [one of] Famous advertisement that you used to illustrate one of your stories. This ad is produced by Ads Inc. ”They wrote and shared a link to an online database, ezlp.io, containing tens of thousands of multi-lingual websites using images of celebrities to promote money-investing services electronic. These are the landing pages that Ads Inc. sent people to convince them to give personal information.
The company does not attempt to conceal its ownership rights. The homepage of the website has a login screen that says, “Welcome to Ads Inc.” Multiple sources have confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it belongs to Ads Inc.
OCCRP has found around 15,000 pages on ezlp.io advertising at least 17 different investment offers in 11 languages. Some products have been subject to public warnings from regulators in at least eight countries, since 2018. Relationships between Ads Inc., who purchased corporate assets, and Tap The Milton Group is unclear, but some of the crypto investment brands found on ezlp.io are also listed in the documents of Milton Group.
That business seems to be lucrative. Ads Inc. began promoting investment in crypto in Q2 2019. The slide presentation during the July 2019 company meeting listed “crypto” as one of the “wins to celebrate”. company, which generated $ 1.15 million in commission revenue for that quarter. The document says the cryptocurrency generated a 120% return on investment, making it the company’s most profitable vertical and a major priority for the next quarter.
Whether the site is beyond Ads Inc.’s control It’s not clear after the company intends to stop doing business. But it stays updated with fresh content until dark on April 25 – six months after Ads Inc. indicates they have stopped working.
Internal discussions at Facebook obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal that the company continues to monitor the performance of former Ads Inc. employees. It is unclear what, if any, actions were taken.
“My team is still investigating former employees to understand their current operating status after the company was dissolved,” a Facebook threat investigator wrote on Workplace, discussion platform. company internal, in October.