The Countless Types of Ad Fraud

Are you familiar with all the sources that are threatening the success of your Google AdWords campaign?

Recently, I came across an article on Instapages about the different types of ad fraud. 

When I was reading the piece, I realized what a nightmare ad fraud truly is. There are so many different fraud techniques!

I also discovered that click fraud is just one of the many ad fraud techniques. This issue is much larger than I could ever imagine. 

Today I am going to share with you as many types of ad fraud as possible. If we can recognize our enemy, we are already one step ahead. You know what they say, better the devil you do know than the devil you don’t! 

I will start with the list that I found on Instapages:

Domain Spoofing

Domain spoofing takes advantage of the system in a few different ways. Mainly by tricking the advertiser into thinking they are paying for better inventory than they are.

Domain spoofing is usually used in real-time bidding.

Let’s explore how domain spoofing takes advantage of the system:

URL substitution 

The fraudster replaces the URL of an actual placement with a fake one.

The marketer thinks he is placing an ad in one place when in reality, he is bidding for space somewhere else.

Cross-domain embedding

In this case, there are two websites, one with high traffic but low-quality inventory and another with low traffic but high-quality inventory. 

The fraudster uses an iframe to overlay the high-quality site on top of the low-quality one that has high traffic. 

This way, websites with dangerous content can monetize their traffic by displaying their visitor’s ads from a brand-safe environment.

Custom browsers

These are bots that make the URL of any site appear to be the URL of a premium site. 

This URL is then reported back to the advertiser, who sees that their ad was delivered on a site that it was not placed on.

Human browsers

When a visitor’s system is infected, and they visit a website, the malware will hijack an ad placement and inject its own.

Cookie Stuffing

Cookies are text files, loaded with information about the visitors’ browsing behaviors. Fraudsters can modify these cookies and stuff them with false information. With this fraud strategy, marketers can steal credit for a click, conversion, sale, etc. And by doing so, they get a payout they don’t deserve. 

Here’s an image from the Instapages‘ article to explain the process:



Click Injection

Click injection is the most common type of mobile ad fraud.

The clicks come through an application that infects the user’s device and injects fake clicks into an advertising scenario.

The application seems harmless at first, appearing to be as innocent as a wallpaper. 

But in fact, the application runs in the background and generates fake clicks on invisible ads without the user’s knowledge. By inflating the number of clicks produced, the fraudster can maximize revenue earned from generating the click.

Click Spamming

Here’s a simple explanation on click spamming by Brittany Irhig that I found on Interceptd‘s blog post:

“Click spamming is the process of sending large numbers of clicks to an MMP. The for chance misattribution (per individual click sent) is very low, therefore, the fraudsters send high volumes of clicks (we’re talking, in the millions), thus, increasing the probability of misattribution and a potential payout.”

Pixel Stuffing

With the pixel stuffing technique, “fraudvertisers” can display countless ads on a webpage, because they transform a regular size ad into a practically invisible ad. Even if the visitors don’t see the ads, the fraudster gets the impressions and the credits for them.

Ad Stacking

Fraudsters use ad stacking to show more ads in one placement to get credits for them.

The visitor of the website sees only one ad per placement, but there are more hidden behind the visible one.

Ad Injection

Ad injection is done through browser extensions or adware plugins and permits. This allows “fraudvertisers” to put ads on websites where they do not belong. 

Furthermore, ads can appear on websites that do not display ads at all.

With this fraud technique, paid ads get replaced with other ads, damaging both advertisers and publishers.

Geo Masking

This technique can also be referred to as miss-targeted ads.

This is when the ad traffic purposely comes from a cheaper country and not from where the Display Ad campaign is running. 

Fraudsters make money on the advertiser paying for low-quality traffic, which appears to be from a high-quality source.

Bot Traffic or Non-human Traffic

Bot traffic occurs when computer programs pretend to be human.

Usually, these bots run in the background and mimic human interactions.

They make it seem like the ad is getting an impression, but the truth is, the ad is being scanned by a bot.

Click injection is also related to this kind of ad fraud.

Pop-under Ads  

These are similar to pop-up windows. These are ads, with the exception that the ad window appears behind the web browser window.

It is a legal advertising method, but most ad networks forbid it.

Fake Installs

Fake installs are pretty much the same as click farms. They are working with people continuously installing applications and interacting with them to generate fake traffic.

I could continue the list but it seems to me that the forms of ad fraud are countless. As time goes on fraudsters develop even trickier and better ways to make decent marketers’ and publishers’ lives harder. 

If you have heard of or experienced any extraordinary or unique ad fraud techniques, feel free to send your story to us! We are always happy to hear from you! 

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