This actually happened a few years ago and I almost forgot about it until now.
When eBay launched their affiliate program called EPN (eBay Partner Network), it was an amazing way to make some extra cash. The commission they paid was amazing and at the time, it was very easy to optimize small basic sales sites for SEO. It was a gold mine, some even took it to the next level.
Have you ever heard of the forum called Digital Point? I think most likely have. The quality of the forum has been in question in the past, but I am not going to debate that at the moment. What’s important is the owner of Digital Point is Shawn Hogan.
Shortly after ePN launched, Shawn became their top affiliate. Not one of their top affiliates, but their top affiliate. Over the years, he reportedly earned over $28 Million dollars (USD) in commissions with ePN and was paid for all of it.
While many would think eBay would have been extremely happy. It turns out they started to question why he was earning so much and so much more than other affiliates. They eventually began an internal investigation into the tactics on how Shawn was able to drive so much converting traffic to the online auction giant. Eventually, eBay reached out to the FBI to assist with their investigation.
After a lengthy investigation, they were able to determine how Shawn was so successfully. He employed a shady black hat technique called cookie stuffing. Shawn reportedly developed software called “WhoLinked” that website owners could install on their websites, this software told the webmasters and site owners which other websites linked in theirs. He also created a second piece of software called “GEO Visitors”, which helped show website owners where their visitors were coming from on a map.
Both of these pieces of software would insert an ePN cookie on each visitors PC (cookie stuffing), so if the visitor purchased something from eBay, he would receive credit for the sale.
Eventually Shawn got caught and the FBI came through his front door to serve a search warrant. The FBI seized all of his computer equipment and questioned him. He was eventually fined and sentenced to five months in prison.
If you’re interested, you can check out more details on this story here.