Everything Your Business Needs To Know About Ad Fraud

The world of digital marketing is complicated enough without having to worry about fraudsters muddying the waters. However, ad fraud is rampant and appears to be on the rise. Every business in 2020 needs to know about ad fraud, what it is, and how they can protect against it.


What Is Ad Fraud?

Ad fraud refers to a number of different techniques that fraudsters can use to manipulate both advertisers and viewers to serve up as many ads as they like, irrespective of whether they are seen or not, with neither party being any the wiser. For example, a frame on a website or app that is designed to display just a single ad can easily be configured to load and display multiple ads simultaneously. The user themselves might only actually see one of these ads, but if they are browsing on a mobile device, then they will incur the full data costs of all the ads combined.

Similarly, in the above scenario, the marketers who are paying to have their ads displayed will also have to pay for each of the ads loaded into the frame, even though most of them aren’t going to be seen.

Another common form of ad fraud is click fraud. As the name implies, this type of fraud involves registering fake clicks of PPC ads, making it seem like they are being clicked on by a large number of people, even if they are barely attracting any attention.


How Much Does Ad Fraud Cost?

With billions of dollars being spent on digital advertising every year, it isn’t hard to understand why it is such an attractive target for fraudsters. According to one source, there were over 740 million instances of ad fraud in the US for the year 2019. Of these, 77%, or around $570 million, were classed as ‘highly sophisticated.’ This makes sense – as ad fraud has become a bigger and more prominent issue, fraudsters and marketers have been involved in a game of cat and mouse with the fraudsters constantly upping their game in response to marketers and others developing better detection tools.

The same report looked at more than four billion individual ad requests spread over more than a million websites between the end of 2018 and the middle of 2019. Of these, almost 1 in 5 (18%) were found to be fraudulent requests.



This kind of fraudulent traffic is known as SIVT – sophisticated invalid traffic – is the traffic associated with malicious advertising traffic. Fraudsters use a combination of domain-masking, invalid referrals, and other malicious tactics to disguise the nature of their traffic and make ad fraud harder to detect.

While mobile internet usage is now more common than desktop browsing, desktops are still the preferred target for fraudsters. This is largely due to the greater likelihood that desktop systems won’t be properly updated and will, therefore, be vulnerable to simpler exploits. However, the split is still fairly even, with 55% of online ad fraud being desktop-based and 46% mobile. Breaking down the data even further, we can see that Android is a more popular target than iOS, with 59% of ad fraud targeting Android devices and apps while 41% target iOS.


Ad Fraud Prevention

Any business that is spending money on digital marketing campaigns should be aware of the impact that ad fraud can have on their work and should take steps to mitigate its effects. Businesses that are totally reliant on outside parties and other businesses to produce and distribute their digital marketing are more likely to fall victim to ad fraud, especially without proper auditing.

While some businesses are able to handle their digital marketing entirely in-house, many businesses have to use outside agencies in some capacity to distribute their digital marketing. Vet these partners beforehand to make sure that they are legitimate. The majority of major online advertisers are above board and will take steps to prevent their platforms being used for ad fraud. However, the fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated all the time and are always finding innovative new ways to undermine the measures that are in place.


Ad Fraud Prevention Tools, Do They Work?

Defending against ad fraud requires a multi-pronged approach. Part of your approach should involve manually reviewing your marketing data to identify any anomalies, but this should be combined with the use of Ad Fraud prevention tools like ClickGuard. ClickGUARD’s article on ad fraud prevention tools helps to explain what you should be using to avoid advertising fraud. They themselves produce one of the best tools out there for combatting click fraud, as it offers full transparency of data. Given that click fraud is one of the most prevalent forms of ad fraud, it is worth investing resources to fight this form of advertising fraud specifically.


The Most Common Types Of Ad Fraud

Every business or website with a substantial digital marketing component should have a basic knowledge of the most common types of ad fraud. Knowing what to look out for and what the current landscape looks out will help you to defend yourself properly.

Domain Spoofing

When marketers are bidding for advertising space, it stands to reason that the popularity of the website hosting the advertising will determine the cost. There are a number of different metrics that are brought together to determine how valuable a domain is to marketers, as well as looking at the volume of traffic, the quality of that traffic is also relevant to the website’s value to marketers.

Higher quality domains can charge a higher premium for the adverts placed on them. One of the most common forms of ad fraud is domain spoofing, which involves impersonating a different, much more expensive domain. Domain spoofing can be as simple and lazy as a URL substitution, or it can use the deployment of custom browsers and cross-domain embedded code to disguise what is happening.

Cookie Stuffing

Websites use cookies for all sorts of purposes; they are the primary way that websites store information about their users. A malicious actor can hijack these cookies and fill them with false information. This false information can then be used to misrepresent the uses of a website. Cookie stuffing can also be used for the history of a user on a website. This can’t be used to make it look like a user was successfully converted when they weren’t.

Click Injection

Click injection is one of the most common types of ad fraud seen on mobile devices. As the name suggests, this method involves registering fake clicks or presses on ads. This makes it look as if users are interacting with an ad, and it is working as intended, even when it is being ignored by most people.

Click injection is often achieved by the use of specially-design malicious apps. These apps often masquerade as legitimate apps but run in the background on the users’ phone, generating a click periodically.

Digital marketing is an important consideration for any business in 2020. Most businesses spend a significant portion of their revenue on marketing. Given the importance of marketing to your business, you will want to ensure that you are getting what you pay for. Advertising fraud can seriously undermine your marketing efforts and ultimately cause you to waste money. It is worth investing in protection against ad fraud in the form of specialist tools and software.


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