While ad fraud is not an entirely new phenomenon, it surely is an ongoing issue for the ad tech industry that requires greater attention given the scale at which ad fraud is occurring in the inventories of advertisers and marketers.
Digital ad fraud refers to the act of misrepresenting or purposely tampering with engagement metrics, drawing fraudulent traffic and impressions, affecting the click-through rates and revenue generation.
With programmatic advertising serving as a helpful tool for advertisers and publishers to get involved in the automated marketing of the new digital era, ad fraud is almost inevitable, with professionals of all sizes being at risk of running into bad actors one way or another.
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In this guide, we take you through the different layers of ad fraud and the best ad fraud prevention techniques, with the help of the top ad fraud detection companies out there to block fraudsters from exploiting your marketing efforts..
What is ad fraud?
To put it in the most simple terms, ad fraud is when adverts are paid for and published on fraudulent sites, or when impressions, clicks and installs are faked in efforts to exploit the mobile advertising technology system to generate fraudulent revenue.
Mobile ad frauds come in a variety of formats and are not always easy to detect. But in essence, the concept is commonly popular among cybercriminals, and typically combines identity fraud and attribution fraud.
Fake activity and metrics, like traffic and data events, are masked as real user behavior in order to benefit from financial gain. Ad fraud typically involves using bots to carry out attempts to manipulate the flow of the usual advertising process, from advertisers to the target users.
Fraudulent publishers are among the most common online ad fraudsters who use such automated bots to repeatedly click on adverts, increasing the advertisers’ revenue and being rewarded themselves with an advertising fee that was intended for legitimate publishers.
As this is an important topic for mobile marketers and advertisers to understand, it is also crucial for you to know the types of fraudulent acts in digital advertising to detect the malicious actors before they have already done irreparable damage to your marketing strategies and budgets.
What are the different types of mobile ad fraud?
It can be difficult to accurately categorize the types of ad frauds to detect and monitor them on an individual level, as they can often blend in with one another. Nonetheless, we have put together a list of the common fraudulent acts that typically take place in the digital advertising sphere:
Click fraud is one of the most common kinds of ad fraud and is usually committed by bad bots. The act describes bots that exploit pay-per-click (PPC) ads by spending the advertiser’s entire budget and generating false traffic by running click farms.
The aim here is to impersonate a real user so that the ad platform thinks the webpage or ad content gets more clicks than it actually does in reality. As click fraud happens on a larger scale, an emulator is utilized to ‘click’ each link over and over to establish an automated process, targeting multiple links at once.
One will see a huge boost in CTR of their ads but will not see an increase in conversions.
Similarly, click injection refers to the simulation of high clicks as well, but with app installs. In this case, a fraudster will create fake clicks when app installs are taking place, claiming the attribution for these installs.
Fraudsters publish an app, which listens to ‘install broadcasts’ – a signal when an app is launched for the first time. This way they can detect when other apps are downloaded on a device, allowing fraudsters to inject clicks before the install is complete, receiving false credit for the install.
The act of generating an oddly high number of traffic, installs and other key metrics is a common form of mobile ad fraud, which is carried out by an automating clicking platform.
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Similar fraud types include the following to create excessive numbers:
Types of ad fraud
The ad stacking concept takes place in programmatic ad placements, where ad units are stacked on top of each other, as the name suggests. A publisher sells multiple ads on a platform, placing one on top of the other, causing each of them to gain more impressions.
This way, the fraudster can get credit for all of the impressions the ads receive, while the user only views one of these ads, as one advertisement is disguised behind another.
Another type of ad fraud that exploits the advertising platform is ad injection, where fraudsters take advantage of compromised browser extensions, plugins and other malware to place ads where they aren’t meant to be displayed, or to replace existing ads placed initially by a legitimate publisher.
The fraudster receives revenue when these ads are monetized, with publishers losing a great deal of money, despite them owning the inventory.
Domain spoofing involves the act of posing as a legitimate and reputable domain. Advertisers are then tricked into paying premium prices to secure fake ad placements, in the belief that the website is valuable.
Bad actors will create a fake site that looks original and then attempt to generate revenue by purchasing low-quality traffic and serving advertising from multiple networks, despite never truly reaching the intended target market.
SDK spoofing is a type of ad fraud that entails creating a bot within an app, which then sends illegitimate clicks and installs using data from real devices, without there being any actual installs.
The bot also engages with MMPs (mobile measurement partners) that register them as if they were genuine. SDK spoofing is also referred to as traffic spooking or replay attacks.
Also known as geo masking, the concept maximizes traffic that is more valuable in other regions or countries by fraudsters disguising themselves as being from a particular location.
Bad actors will typically hide where they receive traffic from and sell non-valuable traffic to advertisers for higher prices, with advertisers paying for something they end up receiving no results from.
Bot traffic describes invalid traffic that does not qualify as legitimate ad traffic and, therefore, cannot be considered a valid metric when measuring KPIs. Ad traffic is considered invalid traffic when it is non-human traffic, such as spiders or bots, or suspicious activity that generates malicious traffic.
This type of ad fraud is just another variation of fraudsters posing their behavior as legitimate, which includes acts of incentivizing clicks, misleading user interface as well as fake browser automation.
Why do I need ad fraud detection tools?
Digital ad fraud is a particularly important topic for marketers and online advertisers to understand, as it can have a massive impact on campaign budgets as well as ruin performance and revenue in the long term.
It is estimated that the costs of digital advertising fraud will drastically grow between 2018 and 2023, from 35 billion to as much as 100 billion U.S. dollars, confirming that ad fraud remains a critical problem for ad networks and marketers alike.
It is also worth pointing out that mobile fraudsters make up almost 18% of the internet’s traffic within the marketing industry, with the largest ad markets, such as the United States, China and the United Kingdom reporting major economic losses caused by ad fraud alone.
While mobile advertising fraud may sound like an issue that mainly concerns those in the IT areas of advertising, really anybody who consumes online content, including professionals establishing a business and ad campaigns within the app world can fall victim to bad bots.
Mobile ad fraud detection companies are dedicated to eliminate malicious actions and prevent fraudsters from delivering ads to your target users and exploiting your ad platform and campaigns, snatching away your well earned revenue.
Until we are gifted with the ultimate AI solution that gets rid of the endless battle with mobile fraudsters once and for all, we can turn to ad fraud detection companies and prevention softwares that to stabilize our ad campaigns and effectively protect our revenue.
With the help of top ad fraud detection companies, you can rest assured that, as a programmatic advertiser, you invest in quality and secure inventory with legitimate, human traffic and clicks that you can rely on to run successful and profitable ad campaigns.
Now that you know just how important ad fraud detection tools are and how companies that provide such can benefit the health and sustainability of your ad campaigns, it is also helpful to ace the best ad fraud detection techniques yourself.
How do I detect ad fraud?
Because the realm of ad fraud is so complex, the scale at which fraudsters and scammers are evolving is becoming greater. Advertisers are now required to become their own master of ad fraud and filter out the bad bots themselves.
But how does one detect these mobile fraudsters in such a complex ecosystem? And how can you identify malicious activity before they inflict long term damage on your campaigns and marketing strategies?
Here is a breakdown of some crucial warning signs that you should pay attention to:
Mobile ad fraud warning signs
Keeping an eye out on these factors can significantly decrease the possibility of destructive impact on your campaign. When spotting these warning signs, make sure to investigate the activity further to reduce the chances of being exposed to bad bots.
How to prevent mobile ad fraud?
Knowing how to detect mobile ad fraud and how to recognize strange behavior on your site and analytical tools, you are surely eager to know how to prevent the concept from actually playing out.
While there is no single formula to fully avoid ad fraud, there are essential safety checks that you should have in place to prevent malicious behavior in its early stages to best protect your campaigns.
Ad fraud prevention techniques
The most common aspect of ad fraud you want to focus on is preventing fake traffic from being associated with your paid channels and making sure that your ad spend is generating revenue to the correct channels and accelerating user engagement.
Ad fraud prevention tools will analyze every install event and clicks in real-time – yes, each and every one of them. They will also actively search for unusual and suspicious activities that may indicate fraudulent behavior.
Another important tool is keeping your database clean and updated so that you can rest assured your campaigns are being carried out and analyzed based on correct and real data.
This will minimize the number of false positives showing up in your data analysis and reviews.
Know your ad network
Apart from keeping a close eye on your data and making sure you track every single traffic event, whilst maintaining clean records, you also want to choose the right ad network, which you can trust.
Before you make any efforts to fight mobile fraud, you need to know which platforms your ads are running on, making a transparent and legitimate platform absolutely essential to effectively detect and protect your assets.
Use an ads.text file
It is also beneficial to have an ads.text file in place to accurately identify which ad networks, ad exchanges and supply-side platforms (SSPs) are being used by web pages that resell your inventory.
Details about the SSPs, including its inventory, placement ID and relationship with said web page, and knowing if they have been authorized by you to market your ad space are crucial information to help eliminate the possibility of ad fraud.
Don’t forget to also ensure your monetization partner is implementing a legitimate Seller.json file. This way you can confirm the source of the inventory and impressions where they are being purchased from.
Partner with top ad fraud companies
Partnering with our top ad fraud detection companies will help you accurately detect automated bots and fraudulent activities in your campaigns.
As the realm of mobile ad fraud is extremely complex, it requires a high level of specialization and expertise. There are several ad fraud detection platforms out there that focus on the buying and selling of ad placements.
With the new found knowledge gained from this guide and knowing the key signals of fraudulent activity, you can carefully select the company that best serves the protection of your inventory.
The list we have put together for you below includes trusted partners who will accurately monitor key metrics and user behavior, ensuring the quality of your traffic and ad placements as well as to combat malware – all for the sustainable health and success of your business.