New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an investigation of a firm that allegedly sold millions of fake followers to social media users.
The company, Devumi, sold more than 200 million fake followers, or bots, to celebrities, sports stars, and politicians, The New York Times reported.
"Impersonation and deception are illegal under New York law," Schneiderman tweeted. "We are opening an investigation into Devumi and its apparent sale of bots using stolen identities."
The Times reported that at least 55,000 of the bot accounts names, pictures, hometowns and other details taken from people on Twitter. The information was stolen from people in every U.S. state as well as dozens of countries, The Times said.
"The growing prevalence of bots means that real voices are too often drowned out in public conversation," Schneiderman said. "Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence."
On social media, high follower numbers means greater influence and visibility, which can impact public opinion and offer lucrative financial deals for the account holders.
On its website, Devumi offers customers the chance to buy up to 500,000 followers for social media sites including Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Vimeo, with prices starting at as little as $12.