US recovers $15 million in profits from 3ve ad fraud scheme

The U.S. government said Wednesday that it had recovered over $15 million of funds derived from an elaborate, international digital advertising scheme that used a botnet of infected computers to fake web traffic. 

From December 2015 through October 2018 Sergey Ovsyannikov, Yevgeniy Timchenko, and Aleksandr Isaev accessed more than 1.7 million infected computers, using hidden browsers to load up websites they set up to fraudulently reap online advertising payments from more than a billion fake views, according to the Justice Department.

A total of $15,111,453.84 connected to the fraud was transferred from Swiss bank accounts to the U.S. government pursuant to a forfeiture order, the Justice Department said. The recovered funds represent a little more than half of the $29 million the DOJ said businesses paid out for ads no one actually viewed.

Ovsyannikov and Timchenko, both citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan who ran the scheme, called “3ve” or “Eve”, were arrested in 2018 and pleaded guilty in 2019. Isaev, a Russian citizen and collaborator, remains at-large, according to DOJ. 

“This forfeiture is the largest international cybercrime recovery in the history of the Eastern District of New York and sends a powerful message to those involved in cyber fraud that there are no boundaries to prosecuting these bad actors and locating their ill-gotten assets wherever they are in the world,” said Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Aleksandr Zhukov, a Russian citizen and the self-proclaimed “king of fraud” who ran a similar online advertising fraud scheme dubbed Methbot was charged in the same 2018 indictment as the trio connected to recent forfeiture.

Zhukov disguised his operations as a legitimate advertising network called Media Methane, leading a team that operated thousands of essentially fake websites loaded with ads from real publishers, then hit them with tools that simulated web traffic to reap the advertising revenue. He was convicted in a jury trial in the U.S. for related charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2021.

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson

(they/them) is a longtime cybersecurity journalist who cut their teeth covering technology policy at ThinkProgress (RIP) and The Washington Post before doing deep-dive public records investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight.