Police in Thailand recently busted a massive “click farm,” at which three men were using nearly 500 cell phones and hundreds of thousands of SIM cards to boost the number of likes on certain WeChat posts for money.
The men — Wang Dong, Niu Bang and Ni Wenjin — are all Chinese natives, operating in Thailand because of the cheap cost of cellphone plans. Thailand’s lax laws also allowed them to link multiple cell phones to the same WeChat account, something that China prohibits in order to minimize click fraud. According to Motherboard, Thai police arrested the men for working without a permit and smuggling SIM cards into the country.
The entire setup consisted of a ludicrous 347,200 SIM cards, 476 cellphones, 21 SIM card readers, and nine computers. Inside their rented home, located near the Cambodian border, the men had stored the cell phones on a pair of giant metal racks, which they could control by computer.
No one knows how the trio was able to acquire so many SIM cards from Thailand’s major cellphone providers, but the men said that they had been operating the click farm for three months.
Police originally thought that the men were running an illegal call center, a common offense across Southeast Asia in which callers try to scam foreigners out of their money. Instead, the men explained that they operated a series of fake accounts on WeChat which they used to boost the number of likes on a post for anyone willing to pay.
Immigration police captain Itthikorn Atthanark told the Associated Press that the men got paid based on the amount of likes that they generated. If things went well, they each received 100,000-150,000 baht ($2,950-$4,400) per month.
Click farms and click fraud have become common worldwide in recent years. Clients can use them to make their websites or accounts appear prominent, elevate their social media profile, boost their ratings or make their advertisements look popular.
WeChat is China’s largest social media app with more than 900 million active users. It is designed for personal messaging and private accounts, making it hard to spot fraudulent likes and views. In the past though, WeChat users have documented hordes of “zombie fans,” or invisible WeChat users who like posts but don’t seem to be real people.
Motherboard also points to a 2015 investigation conducted by The Beijinger which showed just how incredibly cheap and simple getting fake likes can be. In the article, one expert claims that 95% of accounts regularly cheat in this way.
As for the trio of scammers, they could face up to five years in prison for working illegally in Thailand, but likely will get away with a fine and be sent back to China. Meanwhile, some WeChat pages will have to find somewhere else to get their likes.
By Caroline Roy
[Images via Jiggie Jaa]
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