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The Fake Ads Factory

The world’s largest advertising platforms Google and Facebook are so far failing to prevent fraudsters from penetrating their ads system in order and making people lose their life savings thinking they are investing in cryptocurrencies. Global fake advertising featuring celebrities and made-up news stories are used to persuade people to invest in cryptocurrencies promising investors huge profits: but all investors lose their money and many are tricked to put in even more money not to risk losing what they have already invested.

All this is a well organised scam by companies working globally, using fake ads with pictures of celebrities and imaginary news stories about successful investments to make, to lure especially elderly savers to invest. The scam is often targeting European countries but is also reported from for instance Australia and Latin America, a map from non-profit network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) shows.

Publishers in many countries and Google and Facebook are trying to get to grips with the fake ads that are a threat to well-known and serious publishers’ trustworthiness when the fake ads and news stories are published on their websites. Publishers say it is the big IT companies’ responsibility to see to that the fake ads are efficiently blocked out of the advertising ecosystem, with Facebook and Google answering that they are investing heavily to come to grips with the ads. However, so far it seems the fraudulent adverting companies find ways around the control systems the IT companies are setting up.



Google’ s head of communication, Northern Europe, Mark Jensen, said that trying to stop the fake ads is “a cat and rat play. The bluffers constantly develop strategies trying to avoid our systems but we are determined to fight them”.

“We do not allow deceptive advertising that aim to deceive or avoid our checking of advertising. In July, we extended our policy to better handle clickbait and sensation headlines as an addition to our already strict policy forbidding advertising for cryptocurrencies in Europe”.

Jessica Romero, Facebook Director of Platform Enforcement and Litigation, said in a blog that her company has sued a company for violating Facebook Terms and Policies by providing cloaking software and services designed to circumvent automated ad review systems, and ultimately run deceptive ads on Facebook and (Facebook owned) Instagram. Cloaking is a malicious technique that impairs ad review systems by concealing the nature of the website linked to an ad.

In the case taken to court in California, software was used to conceal websites featuring scams related to COVID-19, cryptocurrency, pharmaceuticals, diet pills, and fake news pages. Some of these cloaked websites also included images of celebrities, she said adding that Facebook has also taken technical enforcement measures.

Rob Leathern, responsible for Facebook’s business integrity, says the company is trying new ways to stop the fake ads but that persons organizing the networks are persistent and well financed. No measures are perfect but we continue developing new technology and methods to stop these offensive ads and the people behind them, he said.



Investigative journalism network OCCRP has in cooperation with a number of publishers investigated how the fake investment business is operated. Publishers have also contributed stories about savers who have been persuades to put up all their savings and in many cases also been talked into taking loans to go on investing in fake businesses.

Publishers like The Guardian, Le Monde, Buzzfeed News, Swedish Dagens Nyheter and Finnish Helsingin Sanomat recently published stories in cooperation with OCCRP saying that an advertising company in San Diego, USA is the origin of fake cryptocurrency investment ads. The founder of the company is reported to have been killed 2019 in a helicopter crash and it is unknown who is now running the company.

OCCRP reports that last year, a whistleblower approached Dagens Nyheter saying he had been employed by a company in Kiev, Ukraine that is part of scam investment in cryptocurrencies
Through relentless onslaughts of phone calls and emails, an army of young salespeople scammed people around the world who were vulnerable to their sales pitch, whether that was because they were elderly, infirm, naive — or simply optimistic, the OCCRP reports.

”Journalists spent months following up on the extensive evidence provided by this whistleblower: thousands of call logs, customer lists, documentation of money transfers, and strikingly callous internal notes on how to target prospective victims, then keep wringing cash out of them for months.”

Law enforcement officials interviewed by OCCRP and its partners say these types of fraud networks are difficult to dismantle, because they do most of their work by phone and online, hopping virtually across borders and even oceans to track down their victims. The organization joined forces with more than 20 media outlets around the world to investigate how the Kyiv company operates.

”Over several months, we pieced together the evidence to discover exactly how the scammers targeted their victims, and what happened to these people after they had lost everything.”
The investigation showed how call centres around the world linked to the company in Kiev and finally to Sweden where the whistleblower has delivered his evidence to prosecutors, the OCCRP reports.

Dagens Nyheter informed that the newspaper has tested to use Google’s ad service for fake ads. The test shows how you can buy ads that, without permission, are using celebrities’ names saying they have successfully invested in cryptocurrencies.

Google’s head of communication, Northern Europe, Mark Jensen, said that Google has studied the examples given by the newspaper and has taken action including against special accounts.
The fake investment ads have been a plague for years destroying people’s life savings. Dagens Nyheter’s editor-in-chief said that his newspaper temporary has closed its ad system to stop the fake ads and even though this means considerably revenue as stopping the ad system also means stopping fair ads, the newspaper’s trustworthiness always is a priority. He says Google and Facebook have a heavy responsibility as they have not been able to stop the bluffers from advertising.

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