A Russian cyber-criminal has been convicted of running a sophisticated digital advertising scam that defrauded American companies out of millions of dollars.
Aleksandr Zhukov used infrastructure spread around the world to trick companies including the New York Times and Comcast into thinking that they were paying for legitimate digital advertising. In reality, Zhukov and his co-conspirators were using coding and domain spoofing to fraudulently obtain revenue.
Zhukov and his co-perpetrators made it appear as though they ran legitimate companies that placed ads in front of real human internet users browsing genuine internet web pages. However, the evidence at trial established that Zhukov and his accomplices faked both the users and the web pages.
Computers they controlled were programmed to load advertisements on spoofed web pages via an automated program. The con defrauded American brands, ad platforms and others in the US digital advertising industry out of more than $7m.
Victims of the scam included household names the New York Post, Nestle Purina, and Time Warner Cable, and the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
Zhukov carried out his digital advertising fraud scheme between September 2014 and December 2016 through a purported advertising network named Media Methane.
Media Methane arranged with advertising networks to receive payments in return for placing ad tags on websites. Instead of placing the tags on real publishers’ websites, Media Methane rented more than 2,000 computer servers housed in commercial datacenters in Texas and the Netherlands and used those datacenter servers to load ads on fabricated websites, spoofing over 6,000 domains.
“The defendants programmed the datacenter 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 web page, starting and stopping a video player midway, and falsely appearing to be signed into Facebook,” said the Department of Justice.
When discussing the scheme with one of his co-conspirators, Zhukov referred to himself as the “king of fraud.”
Zhukov was arrested in Bulgaria in November 2018 and extradited to the United States in January 2019. On May 28, 2021, after a three-week trial, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Zhukov of wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and money laundering.