For over a year, a single man has been conducting an extensive spamming operation which end goal was promoting a diet pill called ‘Green Coffee Bea Extract.’ He used nearly 750,000 fake Twitter accounts in order to fulfill his campaign. A fraud of this scale is anything but elementary.
One of the spammer’s methods employed impersonating both celebrity and brands accounts. He imitated the profiles of Vicky Pattinson, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Jenni “JWOWW” Farley. Not only the operator exploited well-known people and companies, but he also did it in an impressively credible way adding familiar logos, avatars and icons to the manipulated profiles.
The spam cheater also took advantage of various popular news and information platforms such as CNN, E! Online, TMZ, ABC News, MTV News, and Yahoo! News.
How Did the Scheme Work?
The operator sent tweets from hundreds of falsified accounts. Their content was based on the ‘before’ and ‘after’ trick, thus promoting the effects of the diet pill. To make it even more believable, the spammer abused photos of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Renee Zellweger and Lady Gaga, under the pretense that they lost weight thanks to the Green Coffee Bean Extract.
The purpose behind his actions is quite apparent – establishing a higher click rate thanks to the ‘mockingbirds’ accounts, as Symantec security researchers already dubbed them last year. The name is of no surprise – mockingbirds are known for the ability to imitate.
To make sure that the click-rate would be as higher as possible, the spam operator implied two more types of fake accounts, called ‘eggs’ and ‘parrots’. The first kind exploited stolen photos and content of real people thus displaying regular social media activity. The second type, dubbed egg accounts, acted like users completely new to Twitter. Those accounts were employed to boost the followers of ‘parrots’ and ‘mockingbirds’.
How Did the Operation Survive for so Long?
The Twitter cheater deleted the tweets from the ‘mockingbirds’ shortly after they were retweeted by the ‘parrots’.
According to Symantec, more than 700,000 accounts ‘egg’ profiles were exploited compared to the lower number of ‘parrots’ estimated to about 40,000. One of the oldest accounts is dated back to September 2013.
Unfortunately, researchers have not revealed the exact amount of money raised by the fraudulent activities. It is known though that credit card payments were submitted for free trials of the pill.
How Was the Spammer Exposed?
Thanks to a close monitoring, all of the accounts were traced back to the deceiver.
It is not the first spam operation exploiting social media accounts and tactics. When it comes to Twitter, users can make sure that a particular celebrity account is valid through its verification mark viewable as a blue badge, as security specialists suggest.