German national is the latest cyber-criminal sentenced for conspiring to launder proceeds from fraudulent affiliate marketing websites
ATLANTA - Sven Franssen, a German national residing in the Netherlands, has been sentenced to two years and six months in federal prison for his role in conspiring to launder the proceeds of fraudulent affiliate marketing websites. The fraudulent sites received increased internet traffic due to a massive computer hacking and illegal spam campaign brought on by a pair of Vietnamese nationals.
“Franssen’s sentencing concludes the methodical takedown of a cyber-criminal syndicate,” said U. S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “As cyber-criminals continue to look for ways to commit theft and fraud, law enforcement agencies are continuing their work to neutralize their efforts, and bring them to prosecution.”
“The takedown of this criminal organization is an example of how determined and persistent FBI investigators and our federal partners are, no matter where in the world the investigation leads,” said David J. LeValley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “We will vigorously continue to investigate, prosecute and impose stiff penalties on any criminal who believes they can hide in cyber space and prey on the American people with impunity.”
“Sven Franssen’s sentencing should be a warning to all operating illegally in the cyber world. Consumers have an expectation of trust when purchasing good and services through the internet,” said James Dorsey, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Atlanta Field Office. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those laundering ill-gotten gains at the expense of consumer trust.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: In March 2015, a 29-count indictment from the Northern District of Georgia was unsealed against Vietnamese nationals Viet Quoc Nguyen and Giang Hoang Vu, both of whom lived for a period of time in the Netherlands. The indictment was in connection with their alleged computer hacks of at least eight E-mail Service Providers (“ESPs”) all over the United States, including two ESPs based in the Northern District of Georgia.
Email Service Providers are companies that generally offer legitimate email marketing or bulk email services to their clients. Clients hire ESPs to assist with sending bulk emails to customers or potential customers who have opted to receive such emails. “Spam,” by contrast, is a commonly-used term for unsolicited email. ESPs generally take affirmative steps to ensure that their email campaigns are not blocked or classified as “spam” by the recipients’ email programs.
Nguyen and Vu allegedly stole confidential information from the ESPs, including proprietary marketing data containing over one billion email addresses. Nguyen and Vu then allegedly used their unauthorized access to launch spam attacks on tens of millions of email recipients, which helped drive internet traffic to affiliate marketing websites associated with Marketbay.com, which included Nguyen’s own website.
Affiliate marketing is a type of business in which persons or companies, known as “affiliates,” enter into formal or informal marketing agreements with companies to generate sales of the companies’ products. In the internet context, affiliates earn commissions on sales to customers who purchase the companies’ products from websites associated with the affiliate.
Giang Hoang Vu was arrested by Dutch law enforcement in Deventer, Netherlands, in 2012 and extradited to the United States in March 2014. On February 5, 2015, Vu pled guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud, and on July 27, 2015, he was sentenced to two years in prison. Nguyen is not in custody and remains a fugitive.
David-Manuel Santos Da Silva, a Canadian national and a co-owner of the affiliate marketing website Marketbay.com, was also previously charged and convicted in connection with his role in the offense. As the owner and operator of Marketbay.com, Da Silva entered into an affiliate marketing arrangement with Nguyen, which allowed Nguyen to receive commissions on sales generated from internet traffic that he directed to websites promoting specific products. Da Silva knew that Nguyen was spamming to stolen email addresses in order to direct high volumes of internet traffic to his affiliate marketing websites with Marketbay.com. Da Silva conspired with Nguyen and others to promote Nguyen’s hacking and spamming activities by providing him with a platform, through Marketbay.com, to generate sales commissions from his computer hacks.
On March 4, 2015, Da Silva was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Georgia for conspiracy to commit money laundering with Nguyen and others. Da Silva was arrested while traveling in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2015. He pleaded guilty on November 2, 2015, and on June 14, 2017, he was sentenced to four years, three months in prison.
On December 11, 2017, Sven Franssen was sentenced in connection with his role in the offense. Franssen owned and operated Certo Business Solutions B.V. (“Certo”), also known as Multibill, which processed payments for products purchased through affiliate marketing websites associated with Marketbay.com. Franssen knew that affiliates working through Marketbay.com were promoting and selling products through false and fraudulent means. Franssen knew that certain software products sold by affiliates could be publicly downloaded elsewhere for free, and that certain products being promoted for sale were not actually available to sell, or were being sold in violation of a copyright or trademark. For example, Nguyen promoted a product for sale on his website called “Adobe Reader 10” that prominently featured the Adobe logo. In fact, the product that was for sale on Nguyen’s affiliate marketing website with Marketbay.com was not an Adobe-branded product, and was not authorized for sale by Adobe.
The products promoted by Marketbay.com affiliates through false and fraudulent means were sold to customers in the Northern District of Georgia and to customers around the world. Franssen received warnings that his company was processing payments from the sale of fraudulent products. Despite these warnings, and on occasion directly in response to them, Franssen advised and encouraged Da Silva and his business partner to conceal and disguise the false and fraudulent nature of the product sales generated by affiliates working through Marketbay.com.
During the period of the conspiracy, Franssen’s company processed over $1.5 million in revenue generated from the sale of products that were falsely and fraudulently promoted through Marketbay.com.
Sven Franssen, 53, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. to two years, six months in prison, following his guilty plea to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was also ordered to forfeit real property in Cape Coral, Florida, and a 24-foot watercraft vessel.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven D. Grimberg and Kelly K. Connors prosecuted the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.