back to article He called himself the King of Fraud. Now this bot lord will reign in prison for years

Aleksandr Zhukov, a Russian national and the self-proclaimed "king of fraud," this week received a 10-year prison sentence for carrying out a $7m digital ad fraud scheme. Zhukov was convicted in May of multiple counts of fraud and money laundering. He was arrested in Bulgaria in 2018 and extradited to America the following …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still King

    King of scrubbing the toilet block

  2. Ace2 Bronze badge

    Dumb

    With that obvious a level of technical talent, he could have started a legit company and made even more!

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Dumb

      This was my thought. It seems like an awful lot of work and ingenuity, with significant overheads to do something illegal. Couldn't he have been a legit businessman, even if it was borderline dodgy like the big boys do?

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Dumb

      Reading the article I thought he was probably working for Google. /Joke

      Sure, it was "fraud" but how much happens on the Internet like that all the time? He seems to have a very good understanding of internet fraud, he's been moved to America now so it might be worth giving him US citizenship and then the government employing him to manage the Internet when he's released ... I'm thinking that he probably would be able to completely eliminate Internet Fraud since he's got a deep understanding - something that the average government employee lacks.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Dumb

      "he could have started a legit company"

      I've come across occasional cases where the only explanation seems to have been an a deliberate decision against making money legitimately.

    4. Alumoi Silver badge

      Re: Dumb

      Going legit implies paying taxes. Unless you're a megacorp. Just saying.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dumb

      He could easily have gone legit, but made the same money? Not so sure.

      Also, it's a lot harder to get a high paid job in tech than most think. Talent is only one piece of the puzzle. A lot of the time you have to have the right paperwork too.

      As probably quite a few people here can probably attest if they've ever stood in for a fired CTO...you're only good enough to make the seat safe, you probably aren't good enough to be proudly displayed on the exec team page on the website.

      "Studied at Oxford and successfully steered X,Y,Z companies over a 20 year span" sounds a lot better than "Appointed at short notice because we were fucked and dug us out of the shit after our last crap CTO".

      I've stepped up in loads of situations where CTOs have either been fired, they fucked off or were just incompetent and I've not yet been offered the position permanently. Granted I'm only 37 and quite baby faced so I probably don't look old enough to appear wise yet...but still.

      The way I see it is there's this weird grey area when you start aging as a techie where you're too old for mid level hands on engineering roles, but too young for a senior role.

      The elephant in the room is qualifications as well. I've been working in tech since I was 17, 14 if you count the tech support I was doing for small businesses, family friends and the like before that for pocket money. Experience doesn't count for shit if you don't have the right academic creds most of the time. There are exceptions, but they aren't very common.

      1. Blank Reg Silver badge

        Re: Dumb

        not since my first job has anyone asked about where I went to school. Over the last 35 years I've worked for companies across the spectrum of giant tech companies to tiny startups and with every tech title from junior engineer to cto and ceo. No one cares where I went to school, only that I can do the job

        1. herman Silver badge

          Re: Dumb

          The only people who ever ask to see my credentials are the government work/residence visa officers.

        2. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: Dumb

          Did you not also learn in school that anecdotes are not data points?

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Dumb

        get a high paid job in tech

        Job?

        We're talking entrepreneur here. No one thinks this guy was a potential employee surely.

  3. cyberdemon Silver badge
    Holmes

    Why is this filed under 'on-prem'?

    This guy will be 'on-prem' for a while, I suppose.

  4. MrMerrymaker
    Thumb Down

    Fair but only if..

    .... They don't reduce the sentence.

    Serve time. The full whack.

  5. Toe Knee

    So we're feeling bad for the ad slingers now?

    From the crowd that's full on ad-blockers and exclaiming the dangers of drive by malware served over ad networks, I'm shocked there's not some level of cheerleading going on for these guys.

    You need to make up your mind about whether the ad brokers are the victims or perpetrators in the bigger scheme of things. Prison time for stealing from businesses modeled on outright fraud (inflated impression counts, stalking average internet users, etc) is absurd. Clearly he didn't go far enough, because if he had, we'd be talking fines and a slap on the wrist.

    1. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

      Re: So we're feeling bad for the ad slingers now?

      That's the sort of thing that ran through my mind. He got companies to pay to put their ads on servers that had no actual people looking at them. Seems to have done us all a service...

    2. CrackedNoggin

      Re: So we're feeling bad for the ad slingers now?

      I does seem like the ad business is a farce if there is no feedback in terms of increased business that customers can use positively correlated to the adds to increased profit. Without such a sanity check check how can it be determined how much ads with this or that company are worth?

      Or maybe that is what happened, and all the customers did know and quit, losing a little bit each. Like a builder who takes on a lot of contracts and downpayments before word gets around that it is a scam.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: So we're feeling bad for the ad slingers now?

        the ad business is a farce if there is no feedback in terms of increased business

        I think it was one of the founders of Macy's who said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: So we're feeling bad for the ad slingers now?

          And yet advertisers complain are said to complain about ad-blockers eliminating the half that doesn't work. Or is that just the advertising industry? If the latter then I find it difficult to distinguish their morality from Zhukov's.

    3. SCP

      Re: So we're feeling bad for the ad slingers now?

      Yes, it is a very unsympathetic 'victim' in this case, and it is not as though we are indirect victims either since the ad-slingers would have spaffed their advertising revenue anyway - so the additional cost on goods is a given.

      Definitely a very naughty boy - and probably would have got up to less palatable no-good if these easy pickings had not been available. The sentence does have the whiff of a US "crime against corporate America" feel to it.

  6. Giles C Silver badge

    Wasted advertising

    A lot of advertising is wasted. A company I know of was buying about £3k of google ads a month, when they checked the figures they were only selling about £2k of services that could be traced to the adverts.

    For some reason they have decided to reduce the spend on online adverts….

    The company does make a lot more in direct sales and contracts….

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Wasted advertising

      My favourite example of just how much of it is hype and bullshit is that there is an industry standard figure[1] for how much each soshal meejah "follower"[2] is worth to a company.

      The reason? Proving that the lads' online bullshitting is actually of value as Yn >= X. [3]

      [1] Presumably pulled out of an industry standard arsehole.

      [2] Baaaaaa.

      [3] Where Y is said bum-derived number, n is number of sheep and X is the advertising cost.

      1. Ace2 Bronze badge

        Re: Wasted advertising

        +1 for “bum-derived number”

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wasted advertising

      Read a newspaper via your phone app and swipe up to the next story on the app and a lot of time you will "accidentally" load an advert ... and the newspaper (or whatever you are reading) will make a little money because you have a fat finger - it's a "feature" $$$$

      1. Blank Reg Silver badge

        Re: Wasted advertising

        Sure the web page being visited makes money, but is the advertiser?

        I'm sure there are ads on this page, but I never notice them. The only time I notice a web ad is when it's blocking my view of what I want to see, and then all I'm looking for is the X so that I can close it.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Wasted advertising

          I'd guess that a C suite type wouldn't dare not spend tons on advertising by whatever is the accepted/fashionable means.

          It's not about outcomes (for the shareholders) it's about activity. Not slinging tons of cash would be seen as dangerously complacent. Like a premiership football manager that didn't spend on new players.

          Buying a new player is seen as doing something and keeps the bought footballer away from a rival team..

          Advertising is seen as doing something and counters the threat from a rival company that is spending big on ads.

    3. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Wasted advertising

      > A lot of advertising is wasted

      Not necessarily. Most adverts I see make me think "I really will never buy anything from this company", so in that sense they're (slightly) useful.

      1. Dinanziame Silver badge
        Angel

        Re: Wasted advertising

        <Jack Sparrow>but you'll remember the company</Jack Sparrow>

        1. Screepy

          Re: Wasted advertising

          Exactly this. My sister is high up in a media conglomerate that has the advertising contacts for some huge car manufacturers and a number of the biggest banks.

          'Just being visible' is one of the key threads in their ads. They don't particularly need to drive sales but our brains absorb patterns/colours/fonts/jingles etc. and annoyingly remember it.

          The budgets her teams work with just to get the 'right shade of blue' for a certain banner is utterly sickening.

          I frequently ask her how she sleeps at night knowing that she drives so much bilge into the eyes of millions. To which she usually just shrugs and goes off to get someone to redesign her kitchen in her Singapore penthouse for the 8th time this year because Miele have a new range of ovens (or something).

          *sigh

          1. veti Silver badge

            Re: Wasted advertising

            Cars and banks are things that most people buy infrequently, and they represent major commitments, so it's important to get them right. When buying such a thing, name recognition is hugely important because it reassures the customer that this is a serious company that's not likely to disappear next week.

            The same dynamic doesn't apply to everything, but it's an element across a surprisingly wide range.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For this he went to prison?

    “Sitting at his computer keyboard in Bulgaria and Russia, Zhukov boldly devised and carried out an elaborate multi-million-dollar fraud against the digital advertising industry"

    The man deserves every penny he "earned". Apart from which the phrase "carried out an elaborate multi-million-dollar fraud against the digital advertising industry". to me, that means he did to them what those cunts do to us using our bought and paid for bandwidth. Talk about the kettle calling the chimney of colour, coloured...

    1. trindflo Bronze badge
      Unhappy

      Re: For this he went to prison?

      For this (failing to use the internet commons as a doggy dumping grounds) he was extradited to the US at considerable expense, litigated at considerable expense, and will now be warehoused at considerable expense, mostly borne by US taxpayers, demonstrating who the US government is working for. In a perfect world this would fall under the category of illegal contracts that are void or unenforceable.

      I want my money back.

  8. DrXym Silver badge

    Seems kind of complicated

    Wouldn't it have been easier to just place ads that real humans could see?

    1. Draco
      FAIL

      Re: Seems kind of complicated

      Agreed.

      I assume he didn't want to have to share the ad revenue with the real ad slinging networks (like Google) that would have been actually needed to deliver the ads to real web pages. So, the cost of renting all those servers and IP addresses must have been cheaper than the cut Google et al would have taken.

      Still as @Ace2 commented, he could have made more money being legit - maybe it would have taken longer, but, at least, he wouldn't be looking at prison.

      1. Timbo Bronze badge

        Re: Seems kind of complicated

        "Still as @Ace2 commented, he could have made more money being legit - maybe it would have taken longer, but, at least, he wouldn't be looking at prison."

        Being legit is one thing but breaking the "#1" rule in fraud is also significant...

        You must remember the rule? Don't get caught !

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Seems kind of complicated

          Being legit is one thing but breaking the "#1" rule in fraud is also significant...

          You must remember the rule? Don't get caught !

          Also known as the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not get caught.

    2. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Seems kind of complicated

      > Wouldn't it have been easier to just place ads that real humans could see?

      Easier, but worse for society in general.

    3. Drat

      Re: Seems kind of complicated

      Wouldn't it have been easier to just place ads that real humans could see?

      And just as effective for the advertisers...

    4. Zolko Silver badge

      Re: Seems kind of complicated

      yeah, a little TOO complicated for me. This stinks of "we arrest him because of rape accusations, not because he published war crimes our military committed while illegally invading a country using lies "

  9. Twanky Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Surrogate end-point

    As several have commented: He convinced advertisers that he could get them more ad views than other, real ad-brokers. Because (they thought) they were measuring ad views rather than increased sales they were duped. In drug development the concept is often referred to as a surrogate end-point eg measuring a drug's ability to lower blood pressure but ignoring (or explaining away) the lack of improvement in death rate.

    Con-artists hate being conned - it's a shame they're allowed to drag this sort of thing into law courts.

  10. AVR
    Facepalm

    'trained to bypass CAPTCHA puzzles' - I'd buy software to do that for me. Why was this idjit committing fraud again?

    1. Emir Al Weeq

      I was going to post exactly this.

      Have an upvote.

  11. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Who is more "human"?

    "They were trained to bypass CAPTCHA puzzles, to accept cookies, and to fake being signed-in to social media services."

    If that's a definition of being "human", those bots were a lot more human than me. I block cookies and am never signed into "social meeja" so I suppose the advertisers systems must be assuming I'm a bot. I suppose from an advertising delivery perspective, that's a win a for me.

  12. Martin Summers

    765,000 IP addresses just sitting there being used for bots? It doesn't specify if they were IPv6 or not but I doubt it. Shortage, what shortage?

  13. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Zhukov boldly devised"

    Um, it is a fact that people are a lot more bold when they have a keyboard between them and their actions.

    If this Zhukov had had to enact something in real life, I think he would have been somewhat less bold.

    So let's not get carried away with the rhetoric, hmm ? He found yet another way to screw people* out of their money. There's no boldness required.

    * okay, there were advertisers, but that's one step above lawyers

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "Zhukov boldly devised"

      "but that's one step above lawyers"

      Citation needed.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "Zhukov boldly devised"

        Here ya go.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: "Zhukov boldly devised"

      TBH this sounds like a full-on business enterprise. Just that it was also fraudulent.

  14. Nameless Dread

    Ads ? Paid features ?

    On the topic of 'ads', what's the difference between one of them and a 'paid feature' like we've started seeing on el Reg pages ?

    1. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Ads ? Paid features ?

      A paid feature is something you choose to read and is a lot more targeted than adverts, you get the same in newspapers all the time as “promoted content”.

      It is a way of getting a product known for a targeted audience.

      If there was a paid feature for chopsticks then on the register it probably wouldn’t get a good response, however a paid feature on choosing the best server will probably get the server admins and purchasers reading - they might not buy a Dell server but will have a better idea of the Dell model range (as there is a Dell feature on the front page when I wrote this).

      Even if you have an add blocker on as it is a native article it will still get through, as long as they declare it is so then all Is good.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Ads ? Paid features ?

        Paid features will also go through some level of editorial screening, or at least be subject to editorial veto. Ads don't.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wait, so he was taking ad money and instead of actual humans being forced to view those ads, they were being fake-viewed by computers?

    Somebody give this guy a medal!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Won't somebody think of the computers?

  16. hayzoos

    Targeted Advertising Anyone?

    “Sitting at his computer keyboard in Bulgaria and Russia, Zhukov boldly devised and carried out an elaborate multi-million-dollar fraud against the digital advertising industry"

    How about going after the other multi-gagillion dollar scheme called targeted advertising? Advertisers spending more to have ads shown to specific targets but the result is no measurable increase in business. Sounds fraudulent doesn't it? Lock up those selling targeted ads. Oh, and you might consider additional penalties for violations of privacy to create the whole targeted ad business.

    Alas, never gonna happen. Targeted ad industry knows which wheels to grease.

  17. ecofeco Silver badge

    And this is unusual , how?

    I've worked in advertising. If everyone were arrested for fraudulent distribution numbers, the industry would cease to exist.

  18. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Victimless crime? Almost.

  19. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Also

    Some kinds of advertising does seem (sadly) to work.Especially since people started buying more online.

    Brand name recognition does get people to pay significant sums of cash for expensive scent and trainers etc. when exactly the same stuff (tat?) can be produced in exactly the same (Chinese?) factories without the name on it and would sell for pennies.

    People approach various online aggregation, comparison and retail sites because they are seen on TV and the name becomes a cue when they want to buy stuff,

    And then there's gambling sites, advertising on TV - often starting with Bingo as a hook......

    1. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Also

      Regarding gambling sites advertising on tv, a few months ago watching catchup on yesterday (tv channel) us usually bangers and cash - you would get every advert break online gambling adverts usually sky betting but not just them.

      Don’t know if they thought watching an auction program made you want to gamble more? But buying a vehicle at auction is very different to gambling in my opinion

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it just me, or is calling yourself the King of Fraud...

    kind of like saying

    I AM INVINCIBLE!

    while standing tall and proud in the middle of a lightning storm?

    Out of all of the Ad fraud rings, why give law enforcement a reason choose YOUR Ad fraud ring?

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