The US Justice Department has sent a clear signal it’s serious about stopping ad fraud, charging eight Eastern European men for allegedly operating two ad fraud schemes.

The operations, dubbed “3ve” and Methbot, pocketed “tens of millions” of ad dollars over several years by charging advertisers for ad views that were only seen by bots.

The Department of Justice unsealed the indictments overnight. Eight men from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have been charged with 13 counts including money laundering, wire fraud, computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft.

Three of the eight have been arrested over the last two months and will be extradited to the US, while the others remain at large.

“This case sends a powerful message that this office, together with our law enforcement partners, will use all our available resources to target and dismantle these costly schemes and bring their perpetrators to justice, wherever they are,” stated United States Attorney Richard Donoghue.

The multiyear investigation required an unprecedented level of cooperation between global law enforcement agencies and ad tech players. The FBI worked with Google, cyber security firm White Ops and other ad tech companies to disable the schemes and bring charges against the alleged perpetrators.

White Ops unveiled the Methbot scheme in 2016, which had been running since 2014. During that time the ad network falsified billions of ad views and caused businesses to pay more than US$7 million for ads that were never actually viewed by real human internet users.

As a result of 3ve, pronounced eve, businesses paid more than $29 million for ads only shown to bots between December 2015 and October 2018.

White Ops described 3ve as “one of the most sophisticated ad fraud operations to date”. 3ve infected at minimum 1.7 million computers at any given time, counterfeited more than 10,000 websites, and generated between three to 12 billion requests per day to sell fake online advertising.

The story was broken by Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman, who has published an in depth account of the scheme here. Google and White Ops have jointly published a white paper on the scam.

“Today, we have helped the industry create real consequences for actors behind mass exploitation,” said White Ops CEO Sandeep Swadia

“Fraud operations like 3ve bring distrust and instability to the Internet by compromising everyday people’s computers, stealing from businesses, and robbing content publishers. The dismantling of 3ve, along with law enforcement’s actions to hold the individuals accountable, is an important milestone for the digital advertising ecosystem and for billions of humans who rely on a safe and open internet.”

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