New York cracks down on companies that sell fake followers

On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office had reached a settlement with Devumi, a company that made millions selling fake followers to unsuspecting customers. The state of New York found that Devumi had engaged in illegal deception and illegal impersonation in the course of fluffing up social media profiles with its automated accounts.

First reported by CNN, the settlement follows a New York state probe into the company after reports of suspicious activity and potentially deceptive business practices first surfaced. Almost exactly a year ago, The New York Times reported a big feature on the company that prompted the state’s probe.

In that piece, the Times describes Devumi as “an obscure American company… that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud.” The reported detailed how the company used a stable of 3.5 million bots to fuel a business that boiled down to making people look important on platforms, including Twitter. Like any bot worth its sticker price, those accounts often came with names and profile images culled from real people to help them blend in and appear legitimate.

Devumi shut down operations mid-last year in the face of the state probe and slack sales. While some customers of the company and its affiliates were aware they were buying fake followers, many others were not. That deception is central to the state’s case.

The AG’s actions set an interesting precedent for a newly defined category of potential cyber crime — one that may strike fear into the hearts of sketchy social media companies the web over.

“Bots and other fake accounts have been running rampant on social media platforms, often stealing real people’s identities to carry out fraud,” James said of the settlement. “As people and companies like Devumi continue to make a quick buck by lying to honest Americans, my office will continue to find and stop anyone who sells online deception.”