Federal prosecutors have indicted eight people in connection with two international cybercriminal rings that allegedly scammed advertisers out of tens of millions of dollars, according to a press release issued by the Department of Justice Tuesday. Court filings for the case allege that the men told advertisers they ran legitimate internet companies that would deliver ads to their users. However, according to the filings, the suspects faked both the users and the webpages. “They programmed computers they controlled to load advertisements on fabricated webpages, via an automated program, in order to fraudulently obtain digital advertising revenue,” the press release states. One defendant has been arrested in Estonia and another in Bulgaria, while the rest remain at large.
The DOJ charges includes wire fraud, computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. According to the press release, the defendants rented thousands of computer servers in data centers across the United States. In order to create the illusion of real users, “the defendants programmed the servers to simulate the internet activity of human internet users: browsing the internet through a fake browser, using a fake mouse to move around and scroll down a webpage, starting and stopping a video player midway, and falsely appearing to be signed into Facebook,” the DOJ said. The two schemes successfully falsified billions of ad views and scammed businesses out of $36 million for ads that were never actually viewed by humans, according to prosecutors.