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US charges six Russians, two Kazakhs in online ad fraud scheme

Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C. in July 2012. (Another Believer/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. prosecutors have indicted eight people, most of them Russian, for an alleged online fraud involving fake advertising that caused companies to lose tens of millions of dollars, the Justice Department announced late on November 27.

In one alleged scheme that began in 2015, two of the accused operated a fake advertising network that used 1.7 million malware-infected computers to falsify billions of ad views, costing businesses more than $29 million in ad revenues, it said.

Prosecutors say the ads were never actually viewed by human internet users under the scheme.

Russian nationals Aleksandr Zhukov, Boris Timokhin, Mikhail Andreev, Denis Avdeev, Dmitry Novikov and Aleksandr Isaev, along with Sergei Ovsyannikov and Yevgeny Timchenko of Kazakhstan were named in the 13-count indictment unsealed in a U.S. district court in New York on November 27.

They were indicted on charges that include wire fraud, computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.

Ovsyannikov, Zhukov, and Timchenko were arrested abroad in recent weeks, while the other accused are at large.

“As alleged, these individuals built complex, fraudulent digital advertising infrastructure for the express purpose of misleading and defrauding companies who believed they were acting in good faith, and costing them millions of dollars,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement.

“This kind of exploitation undermines confidence in the system, on the part of both companies and their customers.”

Russia’s Consulate in New York said on November 28 that it had been informed about the accusations against six Russian citizens and is monitoring the situation.

In Kazakhstan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aibek Smadyarov told reporters on November 28 that the ministry was checking whether Ovsyannikov and Timchenko were in fact Kazakh nationals.

In June, the United States imposed sanctions on five Russian companies and three individuals accused of having conducted hacking operations on behalf of Russia.