Gawker Media fell victim to phony ad sales from scammers claiming to work for Spark SMG, a Chicago based media agency, who
until recently represent automobile manufacturer Suzuki. The ads, which Gawker was paid to display, crashed browsers and in some cases installed spyware on visitors’ computers. A report on Business Insider details the events.
In short, a man calling himself George Delarosa and using an email ending in @spark-smg.com (and whose WHOIS info was apparently similar to the agency’s) contacted Gawker with an offer. He had $25k+ left to spend on Suzuki (see images).
“I work with Automotive and Entertainment clients in Spark. First and foremost, we want to run a performance campaign for Suzuki across your network. Our budget to start is $25k+. Campaign should be live by the end of the month. We can also run on moviefone and/or entertainment verticals.
“Please let me know your rates, inventory and volume so we can include you in our upcoming media plans.”
Gawker bought the ruse, hook line and bullshit. But, were they responsible for the mistake? These days, the company’s sites seem pretty ad-heavy, but who knows what’s happening. This ain’t no finger pointing. But there was one clue, which a Gawker sales guy pointed out in an email posted on BI: “They maintain a Chicago area code (where Spark is based) but claim to be in London, even though they couldn’t give us the actual time in London when asked.”
We called Delarosa’s number and got a pretty convincing voicemail claiming, as you’d assume, that he works for Spark SMG. He ever referred us to his email address there. One flaw — it should read “@sparksmg.com” not “@spark-smg.com”. Well played, sirs.
According to a Gawker employee, the company never received payment for the ads: “Gawker doesn’t charge upfront and use an industry standard of billing net 30 days (and get paid about 75 days out, which is also industry standard).”
UPDATE: A representative from Spark tells us the agency is “addressing this industry-wide issue and are confronting this as aggressively as possible, as are the digital media owners. Spark is still handling digital planning and buying for Suzuki.
“We have issued a caution to our vendor community in response to these malicious ads — asking they continue to be diligent and red flag anything suspicious. It serves as an alert to our media partners who work with us to protect client investments, and it asks for their collaboration as we secure insertion orders and ad placements.”
We’ve put in calls to Spark and Starcom MediaVest. We’ll add their comments when we receive them. Gawker referred calls to the agency. Also, we’re taking motive guesses in the comments section.
Know more about this story? Email agencyspy at mediabistro dot com.