Ad Fraud – Explanation, Its Types and Prevention

Ad Fraud – Explanation, Its Types and Prevention

Sonal Agrawal
Sonal Agrawal

Director of Growth, Airtory

Published on: 29 Jan 2023

Reading time: 4 minutes

The advent of new technologies has more often than not been followed by unscrupulous elements trying to misuse the same for unfair financial gain. The same holds true in digital marketing. Amidst all the advancements that the field is going through, there are several scammers trying to extract a fast buck or two without having to break a sweat. This is something that leads to a number of fraudulent activities, ad fraud being one of the most poignant examples of the same.

What is Ad Fraud?

Advertising fraud or ad fraud refers to the practice of inflating the impressions, clicks, etc. of ad campaigns for financial gain, which also leads to the wastage of an advertiser’s budget. Digital ad frauds cover a range of malicious online advertising activities and are committed by cybercriminals who could be working alone or in a group or even by organizations that seek to gain an unfair edge over the competition. Regardless of who has initiated the digital ad fraud, the result is always about ad spend being wasted on advertising that does not make it to its intended audience.

Digital and mobile advertising fraud can also be defined as invalid traffic, which refers to any digital activity made up of traffic that is non-human. This activity can further be categorized into two – 

General invalid traffic, which is performed by bots or spiders with the intent of committing ad fraud, which is among the most sophisticated invalid traffic, which is specially designed by scammers for committing digital and mobile ad fraud with malicious intent. This generally involves bots masquerading as humans and interacting with digital ads, which also makes them harder to detect as compared to general invalid traffic. 

Whether it is digital, mobile, or programmatic ad fraud, the basic intent of these scammers is to exploit digital advertising technologies to not deliver as promised and inflate performance and can take forms like fake impressions, click span or fake installs.

Types of Digital Advertising Fraud

Domain Spoofing

A common kind of programmatic ad fraud, domain spoofing refers to fraudsters masquerading fake sites as legitimate, sought-after sites so they can trick advertisers into paying premium prices through their programmatic campaigns for low-quality ad spaces.

SDK Spoofing

A common form of mobile advertising fraud involves creating a bot within an app that initiates fake installs and clicks, to trick advertisers into paying for app installs (as many as tens of thousands of installs) that did not even happen.

Ad Injection

This form of ad fraud involves placing ads on a website without the knowledge of the publisher, replacing their existing ads, or placing fraudulent ads right beside their genuine ads. This is done through malware, compromised browser extensions, etc., and is quite difficult to detect.

Ad Stacking

Nothing is what it seems in this type of advertising fraud as it involves placing several ads on top of each other in a single space where a scammer collects revenue for impressions that are claimed by every ad despite the fact that only the one at the top of the stack is the one that is visible to users.

Pixel Stuffing

This is a form of digital advertising fraud when individual pixels, often no more than 1x1 px in size, are used as ad spaces, which in all practicality allows for impressions to be recorded even though the ad itself is invisible to all visitors. 

Geo Masking

Also known as location masking, this form of digital advertising fraud capitalizes on how traffic from one country can at times be more valuable as compared to traffic from another country or region. This way, scammers can disguise low-quality traffic to upsell to advertisers.

How to Prevent Ad Fraud

There is no single tactic that can help one prevent digital or mobile ad fraud as there are several kinds of frauds and several ways that scammers may try to attack you. That is why it is essential for organizations to work proactively so they can detect ad fraud in their ad networks and protect their marketing activities. For example, when you are using ad creation software, like Airtory, you can add advanced verification trackers to every ad placement whether it is via programmatic ad placement or through direct ad sales. This helps ensure a proper analysis of the traffic quality and provides advertisers with a true sense of how their ads are performing; one of the best ways to deal with advertising fraud. Airtory’s advanced and real-time analytics help advertisers keep a check on ad distribution and invalid traffic, which if they notice to be not as per the deal with the DSP/Publisher, they can course-correct in real-time as well. Furthermore, advertisers can also add another layer of protection and verification by adding third-party trackers like Google DoubleVerify, IAS, MOAT, etc., which can easily be integrated with Airtory and can help ensure that the quality of the ad traffic and delivery is as expected.

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