Ad fraud: how to spot it, and what it can do [Explainer]

by | Insights

Imagine you’ve paid a large amount of money to have your brand advertised online. Now imagine that it has minimal impact, because of ad fraud. It’s the ultimate disaster scenario for companies everywhere, and it’s a very real possibility if people don’t take precautions. The advertising industry analysts Forrester believe that ad fraud will cost $10.9 billion by 2021 unless something changes. If you’re an advertiser, you can’t afford to ignore ad fraud!

Ad fraud should keep you awake at night, because not only does it compromise the bottom line, it is also the stain on your brand-new sofa, which you try to ignore, but which will not go away. Where does it come from, what damage can it do, and how is the ad industry stepping up its security measures to prevent it?

What Different Kinds of Ad Fraud Are There?

Placement Fraud

Sometimes people are sent to sites that look like the ones they wanted to reach, but aren’t. The site might be mocked-up perfectly, except for a few giveaway touches, or it might be impossible to tell the real site apart from the fraudulent one. Either way, there’s every chance some unsuspecting users might get caught out. 

The similar form of ad fraud that a lot of people will recognise is impression laundering. This takes your click on an ad, and delivers you to the expected site, but only after you’re sent through other pages that appear and vanish. Because the pages are on the screen for fractions of a second, many users will not notice them, and so impression laundering can be very successful.

Malware and Adware

It’s also pretty easy for anyone to be sucked into malware and adware. Both of these work in similar, and related, ways. Fraudsters get people to click on bad links, which look like all the good ones, except that they have the result of causing the end user’s device to download something they don’t want.

In other cases, the DNS resolver might get compromised by the malware, or the proxy server or router might be manipulated by what was downloaded, to show different content to that user than to those without the malware or adware.

One example of this comes when a user who uses Google Chrome as their browser of choice – and so would use Google as their default search engine – types in a query, but instead of seeing Google results for that search, they see results from another search engine, perhaps one unknown to them.

If they then click on any of the links that appear on this fake version of Google, they might find that further malware or adware compromises their device, and potentially sends feedback on what they’re doing to hackers.

Mobile Ad Fraud

Most people, most of the time, use their mobile devices to browse the internet these days, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that ad fraud lives on mobiles as much as, if not more than, on desktops. For some reason, the majority of smartphone and tablet users seem to believe that they’re immune to the effects of online criminals, probably because their devices don’t seem like computers, even if they do exactly the same thing in reality.

Apple ensures that iOS is controlled tightly, and so it means that iPhone and iPad users aren’t as much at risk as users of Android or other operating systems, where it’s still possible to host all kinds of advertising not possible through iOS, and therefore it’s possible to host all kinds of ad fraud not possible there, too.

Click bots (which act like humans in order to trick advertisers into thinking their ads are more popular than they are), and click farms (which pay people in order to go to ads and click on them) profit greatly from Android ads, meaning that if you’re running a mobile ad campaign, you need to beware.

Click injection, where downloading a fraudulent app automatically registers clicks for an ad, is another frequently-tried form of ad fraud, as is click spamming, where the app sends through fake clicks, diverting the profit, when a user installs something that is meant to make money for an advertiser

What are the Consequences of Ad Fraud?

If an advertiser sees their ad getting a lot of clicks but almost no engagement relative to the number of views, then that will clearly ring alarm bells, because no-one wants to waste their money.

The thing is, it might be that ad fraud is stopping advertisers from seeing the true effectiveness of their campaigns. Whatever the reason for the poor statistics, there are a lot of potential ways ad fraud might be involved – and you don’t want it to skew your statistics.

Fraudulent redirects, impression laundering, click spamming – any of the reasons mentioned previously can mess up your campaign numbers and make it seem like things are going far better than they actually are.

This means that, if advertisers don’t use a platform that deals effectively with ad fraud before it happens, they might end up breaking off contracts and deals that could have worked well. Equally, ad fraud breaks the bond of trust between inventory and advertisers, and it makes it hard for companies to get their messages out to the right people. Even if they might get some of the audience they hoped for, the overall statistics are still fraudulent. Campaign data is like a honey pot, even a drop of tar ruins the whole pot.

What’s the Solution?

The way to take on and defeat ad fraud is to use dedicated tools that can stamp it out. Something that people are finding really works in the fight against ad fraud is accreditation from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG).

This is something which is only given out to companies that do things like appoint a special compliance officer, and agree to fraud-proof their content as a whole. From an industry-wide average of 8.99%, fraud rates among TAG-accredited partners went down to 0.53%, which is just amazing.

Longer-term, you’ve got to put protection in place, making sure ads work for everyone – the publisher, the advertiser, and the end user or potential customer. The Integral Ad Science Global Media Quality Reports in 2018 found that when advertisers do something to protect themselves from ad fraud, only 0.7% of advertising is subject to fraud. Given all that, it really doesn’t make sense not to take precautions, does it?

What Can Help Prevent Ad Fraud?

Using the latest ad technology, created by NEXD using WebGL, you can make sure your campaign gets through to the right people, not just because we have ad fraud, but we know you do too.. Our simple templates protect advertisers from fraud, while also ensuring your company’s image is better than ever, thanks to quick-loading, crisp, easy-on-the-eye WebGL.

You can track your progress using our Adcanvas self-service platform, meaning that every time there is a change in the ad’s performance, you’ll see it. Advertising is a fast-changing industry, and technology from NEXD will protect your revenue and keep your ad engagement high.