This massive Facebook scam has affected millions of Facebook users and all this is done by a single mastermind Asher Burke, CEO of the Scamster Company Ads Inc.
What Ads Inc. is all about?
Ads Inc. was started by Asher Burke who was the Republican director in San Diego and enormously helped Tim Donnelly, the State Assembly Member in his campaign to be governor and even donated $8,800 in state GOP politics to build his political network according to California political finance data.
He but, kept himself away from politics around the middle of 2015. Burke started registering the companies with names like 3801 Marketing LLC, 700 West Marketing LLC, Next Level Marketing LLC, Balling Inc. and later renamed them as Ads Inc.
Asher’s vision was to build this company, a digital assembly line of brands that would be able to appeal to everyone and this vision of his has been recorded by a few articles. As per the anonymous blogs, Asher Burke called a meeting in late November 2018 at his San Diego office in which he gathered all of his employees and laid the vision to make his company an e-commerce powerhouse.
He then disclosed his plan to merge his company with another e-commerce firm and to hire 20 or so new employees who will be techies and will be able to develop products like Electric toothbrushes and hair extensions.
Prior to the revelation of the scam, Ads Inc. had the image of a “Digital Marketing Firm” with the tight connections to GOP politics and was carrying forward the image of a leading firm in disrupting the lifestyle industry with its advanced approach in technology and also its LinkedIn profile also portrayed it as the leading marketing agency in California.
The Whole Picture Behind This Dubious Scam
Ads Inc. had been a massive Facebook scam and it had earned a lot of money from this lucrative trap which later became so ubiquitous-The Subscription Trap. This trap worked by tricking people and convincing them to buy their products and sometimes it’s was not even their own product and offered users a free trial, which was merely a hoax and also used pictures of celebrities to make their product look more reliable and appealing to people.
In reality, that particular celebrity has nothing to do with that product and that’s how oblivious people enter into a pricey subscription plan and provide their credit card details.
This celebrity scandal made people click on the link and then they got pitched for free trial with small shipping fee, such as $4.99 and then, after a week or so people got rebilled again and a hefty amount of charges appeared on the customer’s credit card and then it became difficult for them to cancel the subscription.
This subscription trap was just one side of the picture, the plan of Burke was much more than this. Burke’s master plan relied upon the boiler room-style operation in which he convinces thousands of people to rent their personal Facebook accounts, as to which he uses them to put the dubious ads of free trial and makes myriads of pages for the same.
It was a multi-layered task and these pages were to be maintained by the overseas workers which were situated in the Philippines. Through the investigation of few articles via documents, interviews, recordings of staff and publicly available information it has been revealed that since 2016 Ads Inc. along with Black Hat marketers have spent $50million in placing the ads on Facebook pages and built up a strong network of stay-at-home moms to connect with families and friends to rent their personal Facebook accounts and hired overseas workers from the Philippines to maintain their legions of pages to place fake ads.
Documents, recordings, and other pieces of evidence revealed that how black hat affiliated marketers weaponized these fake articles and ads to the targeted audience and also exploited the overseas workers. Burke’s Facebook account operation became so large that Ads Inc. later started selling the surplus accounts and pages to the other marketers for $800 per Facebook login and eventually, gave around $15 to $30 to actual holders of those surplus accounts.
Asher Burke was a mastermind and this mastermind had a plan to make his operations legitimate and it was his major motive behind the plan of merger which he described in his late November meeting of 2018 in his San Diego office. There he described that he wants to transform his “Black Hat Operations” into “White Hat Operations” or wants it to go legit now because he was scared from the raids of FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
Baby Boomers: The Actual Target Audience
There are umpteen of victims of this scam but there is one thing is common in all the victims and that is their age. Baby boomers are those who born between the time period of 1946 and 1964 and these old age people haven’t been introduced technology a lot and this trick successfully worked on them and that is the main reason that these ads use the celebrity of old age mainly to target these people, for instance, using Willie Nelson for CBD offer becomes a workable plan because everybody likes him and knows that he likes Marijuana, said by the employees of Ads Inc.
Masterplan Of Asher Burke Behind This Shady Business
Asher Burke very smartly kept his name aside from all this if any raid of FTC occurs, it’s his partner Ralph who will suffer or if it is about the seizure of assets then the assets of Ralph and Winston, head of the rented accounts, will be under consideration.
The process of securing Facebook accounts is also a masterpiece, the employees of Ads Inc. or Winston didn’t pitch directly to people but built up a network of women-who worked for them and that network was named Stay-At-Home Moms. It was a multi-level marketing and social media manipulation business in which he has hired these remote workers called ‘bundlers’ to post messages to Facebook to recruit families and friends to rent their accounts.
In return for the Facebook logins, the account holders got $10 initially and between $15 and $30 later. Once someone agrees to rent their respective Facebook accounts, then the owner of the account has to change the settings to run the ads, document each step with screenshots and then they receive Raspberry Pi computer which is ultimately attached to their home router, through which Ads Inc. managed all the ads and they got unlimited access to person’s personal account. That’s how Ads Inc. hides from getting caught because there is no evidence of placing ads by Ads Inc.
Subscription Scams Are The Bane On FTC
Subscription scams are often called free trial traps which are disseminating all-over and tricking people worldwide and even the agency is after the perpetrators who have stolen more than $1.3million and this scam has become a blot on the image of FTC because of its reach and even the Nigerian prince mentioned in his email that the subscription scams are one of the most enduring and wildly profitable scams.
This scam mainly targets vulnerable and not so savvy people and especially on those social media platforms which have the highest reach across the globe and even these platforms are unable to stop such scamming because they are so sophisticated that existing tools over the platforms are unable to catch them.
“This is clearly a massive worldwide problem”, said Steve Baker, who spent the two decades in investigating scams at FTC and now runs “Baker Fraud Report”, a website which reports about consumer frauds.
FTC takes action against such crimes by imposing fines or through asset seizure and since 2006 FTC is after 17 subscription traps and these operations alone account for $1billion consumer losses and these are those who got revealed and many others are still there but anonymous.
There are always new companies for such traps like Ads Inc. and these are very hard to get caught because of some masterminds behind these frauds and their sophisticated skills. These skills of the fraudsters make it difficult to chase them by the agencies because the remedies are still the same.
Also, FTC can only take civil actions that is to deter the ability of would-be scammers. The only thing which FTC can do other than criminal prosecution is to cut off their access from the credit card system.
How These Ads Outwit Facebook’s Investigation Agency?
These ads usually include celebrities without the knowledge of them which can jeopardize their career and many have complained too.
There is one ad that features the music star Tim McGraw’s picture on one of the pages of Ads Inc. which was named as ‘Guitar Tabs’ claiming that he has been jailed which was a false claim and it was criticized by millions.
It’s been claimed through the records that Ads Inc. and another partner who used this page have spent $44,525.68 to run the ad and earned $79,149.60. There is another recent ad of the successful director Peter Jackson which claimed that he has been arrested and this ad was running on the page of Ads Inc. ‘Salad Crazy’.
Marketers spent $34,765.69 and earned $71,473.50, according to the records. Facebook doesn’t allow this misuse of the images of the celebrities or any ad which can throw its users in the subscription scam or the free trial trap.
But the Ads Inc. outwitted Facebook’s detection system through the ‘cloaking’ system, the ads give a link to the viewers and this link takes the viewers to a website but scammers make sure that this website is viewed to only those who have fulfilled particular criteria.
If any Facebook ad reviewer tries to open the link then they are taken to a safe page but if any average person does this he lands to a page that asks for credit card details.
These ads are getting so powerful that many celebrities have complained against these, for instance, in February 2017, Shark Tank investor Barbara Carcoran along with Dr.Oz tried to track down the people in San Diego, of independent Ads Inc., which alleged to market the subscription trap of the skincare cream using her image and their target was Tarr Inc., who later paid fine of $6.4million after the FTC investigation.
Two of the three men from Tarr Inc. were in the association of Asher Burke, they were named by reports of FTC as Ryan Fowler, and Nathan Martinez and it’s been clear that he was aware of the company before 2015.
End Of This Shady Business
This business ends with the death of its mastermind Asher Burke in the wreckage of his helicopter in Kenya.
After Asher’s death, the merger with the Lander fell apart and Meyer becomes the CEO and Winston, the accounting specialist, also left at some point in 2018, but came back in the office. Brad Burke, father of Asher Bruke started making an appearance in the office and the staff was trimmed down.
Meyers is one of his meetings, assigned the employees to take their Facebook rental account operation like before.
Later, Meyers gathered his employees and announced that they will no longer use fake celebrity ads and articles and will sell health and wellness products to its core market baby boomers and it was again the effort of going legit.
But things didn’t go the way they planned Facebook sent the ceased and desist notice to Ads Inc. to end all the activities of Ads Inc. and that’s likely the reason for Meyer’s announcement to go legit. This frozen the operations and Meyers and the company simultaneously issued the notice to FTC that this firm is shutting down.
Social Media Scams Like Phishing And Others Are Disseminating Nowadays
Nowadays, social media has become a great platform to allure people who can easily get trapped in the scam of some fraudsters like Ads Inc. and there are others like Phishing, in which people send fraud emails and ask the bank details or so and commit to belonging from a reputed firm. Even the FBI of the USA claimed 80 people to be fraudsters in which 77 were Nigerians, the largest fraud case in the USA’s history.