What Is Ad Fraud And How Does It Work

Let’s start with one simple statement — ad fraud is here, and it’s here to stay. Protection is a must, and there are fewer and fewer opportunities for marketers to operate online ads without a fraud detection tool.

In this blog post FraudScore’s team is going to dig deeper into the types of ad fraud, ways to detect fraudulent traffic, and tools that might release you from the task of a constant control of traffic quality.

Is there really a problem?

If you are working with online advertising & ad campaigns — you expect to reach (and get) real views, real users, real people. You pay for those users and interaction with them.

Fraud is simply a scheme that allows bad guys to fulfill the KPIs of your ad campaigns, steal target actions from/as real users, and get to your ad budget. In other words — you get good statistics for your campaign, but there are no (or few) real humans. It’s indeed a problem.

What Types of Ad Fraud Are There?

There are dozens of types of fraudulent schemes out there. But to illustrate the main categories, let’s take a look at these:

  1. Impression (or media) fraud
  2. Performance fraud
  3. Incentive traffic
  4. Bots and Emulators
  5. Fraud in Remarketing

Impression (media) fraud

To cut a long story short — impression fraud is aimed to fake impressions. As in these types of campaigns advertisers pay for contact with a potential user via showing the brand’s ad. So, the key goal of bad guys is to fake and skyrocket views of the ad.

  • Pixel stuffing — a pixel is put at the web page. That pixel is a banner that “shows” ads. A user doesn’t see an ad the size of a pixel. But an advertiser pays for the impression — because campaign's statistics show that the ad was viewed by a person.
  • Background ads — when there are ads shown at the background of the page, and a user has no idea that something is going on. Yet again, an advertiser is charged for these impressions.
  • Data center traffic — invalid (fake) traffic that is supposed to give a lot of views to every ad. There are no real people involved here at all.

Performance fraud

Basically, performance fraud wants to get money for any target action of a campaign: clicks, installs, conversion, payments etc. Take a look at the campaign goal — CPM, CPC, CPA — and you’ll get the targeted action for fraudsters.

  • Click spam — the goal is to steal the last click. There are millions of clicks done by fraudsters to get the attribution, and to get that last (and paid for) click. The user is real, but he might be just organic. But campaign’s statistics receive him from a click that is supposed to be done on the ad.
  • Click Injection — done via apps that are infected by fraudsters (such apps can be even developed by bad guys). These can be flashlights, e-cards wallets or even games. After an infected app is installed to user’s device, it gets access to so-called “install broadcasts” — specific signals that are being sent by all newly installed applications on the device. So when the user decides to install a new app to his phone, and clicks the ad — the infected app gets the installation broadcast signal, hijacks that click, and fraudsters get credit for it.
  • Click hijacking — when a real click to a real ad is stolen and assigned to a fraudulent partner. It could happen if a user had an infected browser extension installed. This extension might be a web-page translator, or a downloading program — and it works. But it also steals real clicks that this user does on real ads.
  • Cookie stuffing — when a real user gets browser cookies saved. It will later on show the tracking platform that this user came from an ad from this particular partner (although he didn’t). How does the user get these cookies? There are lots of ways — from hidden scripts on web sites, to special browser extensions. In this case — the user and device are real too.
  • Fake Installs — all installs are done by software, no real users. A ‘’new’’ device with “clean and real” parameters is created, and this “device” from a data center simulates user behavior, clicks the ad, installs the app etc. Everything here is fake (with some exception about device data, that can also be stolen).

Incentive traffic

Users and their data are real — they view ads, click, install, fill out forms etc. But they are not really organic. They do all the actions because they are motivated with payouts. Usually such users are hired to fake a really good traffic (sometimes to show good test runs of a source, sometimes for a one-time operation). But these users are of no long-time use for an advertiser. They leave after they do what they are told to do (there are scenarios and step-by-step guides for such incentivised users).

It’s worth mentioning that in gaming — incentive campaigns work for promotion purposes, but it’s not always the case.

Bots & Others

Here are all the types of fraud schemes that “can do it all”. These are really “flexible”, and bad players are exploiting it:

  • Device farms — when real people work as “farmers” but instead of crops and fields — they have tables with dozens of real devices. They click the ads, install apps etc. — they perform real actions, but with one goal — get paid by the advertiser, wipe the device, and start all over with another ad.
  • SDK spoofing — when your device is being used to fake installs and other engagements. And you have no idea about it. Again — the source of trouble is an app — a flashlight, a special calculator, a funny game. This app is managed by fraudsters, and it gets access to any other apps on your phone after you install it. The bad app finds activities that are being tracked (meaning they are in an ad campaign, and they are paid for) — and finds a combination of parameters to trick the platform as this device is doing all the required engagements. You can learn about SDK spoofing a little bit more here.
  • Bots, Bot Networks & Emulators — software that imitates real users. That’s it. Bots can be smart, complex, or just one-task-bots. But the idea is to mimic real users behavior for a campaign, and fake all the possible interactions. Bots can view ads, click, register, engage and return to apps. But these are bots — they “die” in the statistics eventually. And those cohorts that show no further development — are the ones to keep an eye on.

Fraud in Remarketing Campaigns

Remarketing campaigns are aimed to gain users who have already interacted with the product/ad. These users are supposed to be easier to attract because they are already interested. And most importantly — these are real people (already verified through the first interactions). Advertisers have high hopes for this category of users.

To cut a long story short — fraudsters aim to steal attribution for these users. This type of fraudulent activity might relate to any type of campaign with attribution payment model.

It’s also worth mentioning that the majority of remarketing campaigns are conducted through Google, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. And these environments are supposed to be fraud-free, but in reality — they are not. Fraudsters are well known to find their way to remarketing traffic.

How to detect ad fraud?

1. Monitor metrics.

When you monitor traffic data, you need to keep an eye on specific metrics that might signal bad traffic — CR, TTI, Churn, GEO data, etc. Each category of ad campaign (and ad fraud) can be detected by monitoring specific data. To sum it all up — if the data is really good and promising — double check it.

2. Use a third party antifraud tool (SaaS).

If you control and monitor statistics, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need an antifraud tool. A human simply can’t process millions of data points that help an antifraud solution detect fraudsters. A human can make mistakes. So an independent third-party service is a good option to consider. These tools are made to prevent and detect ad fraud, and they focus only on the task of fighting bad guys.

There is a checklist to find a suitable antifraud tool, you can check it here.

3. Have an in-house antifraud tool.

This approach works, but you need to keep in mind that, first, a separate tool needs both development and constant updates (fraudsters are known to improve their game constantly), and second — you need to invest in the education of your team to make them traffic-quality-specialists. And, of course, you’ll have to take into account that your managers need time to read the reports, detect ad fraud, and make fraud cases. After all, you hire good affiliate managers, and not ad fraud specialists. Or if you do — it costs a lot of money.

There are pros and cons in every approach to fighting fraudsters, but there is no option to ignore ad fraud. Take a look at the latest ad fraud report by FraudScore. In the first six months of 2022 there are 27% of fraudulent traffic detected globally. And this number only shows the average situation in the world.

FraudScore team invites you to have a chat about global ad fraud threats, and discuss how our antifraud solution can be useful to your business. Contact us, and let’s have a chat!

  • Recomiendo usar FraudScore. Esta solución antifraude nos ayuda a evitar riesgos innecesarios y a eliminar el fraude desde el principio. ¡Bien hecho chicos!
    Olga Saburova, Gerente de Cuents, MobioNetwork
  • Hay muchos manuales sobre cómo ganar dinero a través de internet. La mayoría de ellos te cuentan cómo hacer instalaciones de móvil fraudulentas. Tan pronto como aparece un nuevo ""manual"", vemos picos de tráfico de baja calidad. Pero según comenzamos a usar el servicio de FraudScore, eliminamos a los gerentes que estaban trabajando en verificar la calidad del tráfico. Usando su informe con un conjunto de filtros, podemos generar diferentes tipos de dosieres que nos muestran la calidad del tráfico en diferentes contextos. Esto nos ha ayudado mucho a encontrar muchos estafadores y afiliados de mala calidad.
    Nickolay, Director general, Mobiaff.ru
  • CPA Affiliates Network ha estado utilizando Fraudscore como nuestro principal sistema de análisis y monitoreo de fraude durante los últimos años. Como red de CPA con muchas ofertas de clientes potenciales, es de mucha importancia para nosotros que podamos identificar rápida y fácilmente el tráfico sospechoso y eliminar afiliados específicos según sea necesario para reducir los incidentes de fraude y mejorar la calidad general de los clientes potenciales para nuestros socios publicitarios. La interfaz de FraudScore es fácil de usar y ofrece múltiples opciones de análisis granular que nos permiten detectar y eliminar fácilmente el tráfico de fraude probable. Recomendamos FraudScore como una solución viable para la red y los anunciantes que deseen ver un análisis de conversión en tiempo real para ayudar a impulsar un tráfico de mejor calidad.
    Darren Williamson, Director gerente, CAN
  • FraudScore tiene APIs rápidas y fáciles de manejar. Esto nos ha permitido integrar el análisis de fraude en nuestros propios paneles de control. Su propia interfaz es muy intuitiva y ofrece infinitas posibilidades en términos de filtrado y búsqueda de datos. El equipo de FraudSsore es muy receptivo a los comentarios de sus usuarios e introduce continuamente mejoras en su producto.
    Luis Barrague, Director de operaciones, Headway Digital
  • Durante más de dos años de trabajo con tráfico móvil, hemos probado muchos de los servicios antifraude que el mercado ofrece. Por tanto, podemos decir con confianza que la solución que realmente merece la pena es FraudScore. Tecnología sólida, interfaz conveniente y el soporte más eficiente: ¡todo eso y más es FraudScore! Desde que comenzamos a colaborar con ellos, el volumen de tráfico de Zorka Network se ha reducido prácticamente a cero.
    Oleg Gorelik, Director de afiliados, Zorka.Network
  • Fraudscore ha sido nuestra primera línea de defensa contra el tráfico cuestionable. A medida que el panorama de la publicidad digital móvil se expande continuamente, se vuelve complejo en lo que se refiere a la medición de la atribución del usuario. La necesidad de datos precisos nunca ha sido más importante para el éxito de nuestro negocio y los esfuerzos de marketing de nuestros clientes. Los ingenieros de FraudScore hicieron que la integración fuera perfecta y fácil de usar. La interfaz de usuario nos permite interpretar los datos correctamente y en tiempo real para tomar las decisiones correctas en lo que se refiere a proteger la integridad de la marca de nuestros clientes. Recomiendo ampliamente sus servicios.
    Moufid Al-Joundi, Curate Mobile
  • En Brisk Ads tomamos medidas drásticas para combatir el fraude y, con la ayuda de FraudScore, podemos detectar y eliminar cualquier tráfico sospechoso. Con los informes detallados proporcionados, podemos identificar cualquier fuente cuestionable; asegurándonos de que nuestros clientes solo paguen por usuarios legítimos y rentables.
    Omar Mostafa, Brisk Ads

Otras formas
de contacto:

Puedes reservar una reunión con uno de nuestros gerentes de desarrollo comercial para obtener un recorrido personalizado a través de la plataforma FraudScore.

¿Quieres obtener una cotización para tu tráfico mensual aproximado? Haz clic en "Obtener Una Oferta" y te prepararemos una oferta especial.

Y, por supuesto, los correos electrónicos siempre son bienvenidos)