By Casey Quackenbush
January 31, 2019

A group of Colorado companies selling fake followers, “likes” and social media views has settled with the New York Attorney General in the first U.S. probe to deem such sales illegally deceptive, Reuters reports.

“Bots and other fake accounts have been running rampant on social media platforms, often stealing real people’s identities to carry out fraud,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “We are sending a clear message that anyone profiting off of deception and impersonation is breaking the law and will be held accountable.”

James investigated Colorado-based companies that she said had generated about $15 million in revenue by selling fake endorsements. Between 2015 and 2017, the now-defunct Devumi LLC and other entities owned by founder German Calas made some 250,000 sales for engagement on social media platforms including LinkedIn, Pinterest, SoundCloud, Twitter, Vimeo and YouTube, she told Reuters.

The settlement did not say whether the customers, including actors, athletes and politicians, did anything illegal.

In a major New York Times investigation last year, Calas denied selling fake followers and claimed he knew nothing about social media identities stolen from real users.

Through Calas’ companies, 500,000 Twitter follower might sell for $3,997, and 250 YouTube likes could go for $30, said James.

James’ settlement bars similar activity in the future and prevents Calas from publicly denying the probe’s findings, according to Reuters.

Write to Casey Quackenbush at casey.quackenbush@time.com.

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT

Read More From TIME

EDIT POST