What Is Ad Fraud and How to Protect Yourself From It
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Everything You Need to Know About Protecting Yourself From Ad Fraud

how to protect yourself from ad fraud

Digital ad spend has seen a drastic increase in the last few years, with over a $100 billion increase in revenue between 2018 and 2020 alone, according to eMarketer. And with more and more people rushing to take advantage of the growing programmatic advertising market by the day, it was only a matter of time before the industry fell victim to ad fraud.

Programmatic advertising scams are a growing problem within the digital and mobile advertising industries. Each year, publishers are losing more and more revenue to various advertising fraud scams. Today, an average ad fraudster makes between $5 and $20 million yearly! Astonishing, isn’t it?

Yes, but what’s even worse is just how much ad revenue is lost to scammers globally. Take a look at it yourself:

graph illustrating ad spending lost to ad fraud in billions

As you can see, ad fraud losses are growing yearly, and it is predicted that they will rise to around $100 billion by 2023

With such massive numbers at stake in the ad tech industry, it’s unsurprising that publishers are always looking for ways to protect themselves from ad fraud. Luckily, there are ways to do that! But before we get to them, there are a few essential things we should cover first!

What Is Ad Fraud?

Digital advertising fraud is a purposeful, malicious act of tampering with digital ad delivery and preventing ads from reaching end users. This action is often performed by various pieces of automated software (bots).

The biggest appeal of this type of fraud is that botting schemes are relatively easy to set up (as long as you have sufficient programming knowledge), hard to detect, and incredibly safe. And by safe, we mean that they are low-risk for the fraudsters.

But how is that possible? The reason is simple — they work in such a way that they don’t necessarily “steal” money, but rather make advertisers spend it incorrectly. That kind of high-payout, low-risk scheme is why ad fraud is so commonplace nowadays.

How Does Ad Fraud Work?

Programmatic ad fraud works in various ways, such as by manipulating:

  • Traffic
  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Conversions
  • User activity

Scammers most often achieve this effect using bots or various types of malware. These result in invalid traffic, fake impressions, clicks, and conversions, and imitated user activity. But what does that imply for digital advertisers? It’s pretty straightforward — all of the above factors are crucial to their generating revenue. So having third-parties tamper with these numbers can significantly hurt advertisers’ incomes by forcing them to pay for actions that never took place!

Most Common Ad Fraud Techniques

The first step to protecting yourself from ad fraud is to learn how fraudsters may try to scam you out of your ad revenue. Here are eight of the most common ad fraud techniques to look out for:

  1. Pixel Stuffing
  2. Ad Stacking
  3. Ad Injection
  4. Domain Spoofing
  5. Click Injection
  6. Click Spamming
  7. Cookie Stuffing
  8. Geo Masking

Let’s look at each of them in more detail.

1. Pixel Stuffing

visual illustration of pixel stuffing

Pixel stuffing is an ad fraud technique where scammers display an advertisement in a 1×1 pixel area, making it so small that it becomes invisible to the human eye. However, despite its being invisible to users, the fraudsters still receive an impression for the ad.

Likely the worst part about pixel stuffing is that scammers can repeat this as many times as they wish on a given web page. You can probably already guess how detrimental this could be for advertisers!

2. Ad Stacking

visual illustration of ad stacking

Similarly to pixel stuffing, ad stacking works on a similar principle — receiving fake impressions. Ad stacking entails fraudsters displaying multiple ads in one ad placement. In other words, they stack several ads on top of each other! By doing that, they receive credits for multiple impressions when, in reality, they’ve only earned one.

3. Ad Injection

visual illustration of ad injection

Ad injection works similarly to click injection — it is all about faking it! Instead of faking clicks, ad injection places ads where they don’t belong, usually through a browser extension or a plugin. The fraudsters hijack a server to place an ad into a space dedicated to another online advertisement and can sometimes even put them on websites that don’t allow ads at all.

4. Domain Spoofing 

visual illustration of domain spoofing

Domain spoofing is undoubtedly the most common form of ad fraud nowadays and entails selling ad inventory on low-quality websites by falsely presenting them as high-profile sites. This ad fraud technique works because most ad networks use a real-time bidding system to sell ad inventory to the highest bidders. Domain spoofing abuses the system by misrepresenting a website’s quality and tricking advertisers into purchasing their ad inventory for higher prices than it’s worth. There are several methods fraudsters may employ to achieve that:

  • URL Substitution — This method of domain spoofing is the simplest one out there. It entails replacing a website’s URL with another one, thus tricking advertisers as to where they’ll be placing their ads.
  • Cross-Domain Embedding — This domain spoofing method involves using an iframe overlay of one website over another to trick advertisers. Fraudsters use this method to place ads on non-brand-safe sites with high traffic (pornography or fake news sites, etc.).
  • Custom Browsers —  This method involves using bots to make a particular site’s URL appear as if it were another, premium site’s URL. That way, advertisers are tricked into thinking they are advertising on high-quality, relevant sites.
  • Human Browsers — This domain spoofing method works similarly to malware. After this program infects a users’ PC, it will begin hijacking ads and putting its own in their place whenever a user visits a website.

All of the above methods serve to trick advertisers into thinking their ads are being served on high-quality domains instead of low-quality, irrelevant sites via URL substitution. Luckily, advertisers can easily catch most of the above fraudulent activities if careful.

5. Click Injection

visual illustration of click injection

Click injection is one of the most popular types of mobile ad frauds and can cost advertisers tons of money. The way this scam works is by artificially inflating user clicks in advertising scenarios. But how does that happen? Through malware, of course!

Fraudsters take advantage of this scheme through various malicious apps users accidentally download. These usually hide behind seemingly harmless applications or items like wallpapers, photo filters, voice changers, etc.

Once downloaded, these apps often remain running in the background and will generate clicks for fraudsters while browsing the web on your device. This malware simulates the user clicking on an ad, which gives scammers full credit for the fake click.

6. Click Spamming

visual illustration of click spamming

Click spamming is an incredibly common type of click fraud that focuses on generating fake clicks. This method floods the system with low-quality clicks in an attempt to steal click credit. This strategy isn’t that effective as it’s essentially a hail Mary for a click. However, fraudsters have slowly been perfecting this method over the last few years, making these clicks seem more legitimate.

visual illustration of click farms

One of the most widespread click-spamming schemes is click farms. These often entail human workers manually clicking ads or installing and uninstalling mobile apps to generate click credit. Fortunately, these schemes are quite easy to spot as most click farms operate from third-world countries as they rely on low-paid employees. So if you notice a sudden surge of clicks from countries like India or Thailand, you’re likely being targeted by a click farm scheme.

visual illustration of cookie stuffing

Cookie stuffing is a widespread ad fraud technique most often used in affiliate marketing. This method relies on hijacking users’ cookies and filling them with false information. Because cookies store all information about a visitor’s browsing habits, scammers can use that to their advantage. By altering this information, fraudsters can steal credit for any clicks or conversions the users make.

8. Geo Masking

visual illustration of geo masking

Not all advertising traffic is born equal! Yes — depending on their target audience and campaign goals, advertisers might value traffic from some countries more than others. That is where geo masking comes to ruin their day…

Fraudsters can use this ad fraud method to hide where their traffic is coming from. That way, they can sell non-valuable traffic to advertisers for significantly higher prices. The consequences of this scheme can be massive for advertisers as they will not only spend more money on low-quality traffic but because they’ll earn significantly less from it.

Luckily, if you notice a discrepancy in your conversion rates and impressions, you can notice and deal with this scheme before it causes irreparable harm to your revenue.

How to Protect Yourself From Ad Fraud

Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to avoid ad fraud, but there are ways to minimize the odds of falling victim to it or noticing it early enough not to suffer significant revenue losses. So here are a few tips on how to protect yourself from ad fraud based on its type:

  • Fake Data — When dealing with fraudsters employing fake data, the most reliable way of protecting yourself is by being diligent. That means familiarizing yourself with the above ad fraud techniques, doing thorough research before making any significant investment, and tracking your campaign’s KPIs closely in search of any inconsistencies.
  • Fake Supply — When dealing with domain spoofing and ad injection, the most reliable way to prevent them is to only do business with authorized ad vendors. You can do that by adding an ads.txt file to your site. If you need help setting it up, check out this support guide
  • Fake Traffic — Knowing how to deal with bots, click farms, pixel stuffing, and ad stacking is a must, as these are the most prevalent ad fraud techniques on the web. The best solution to these types of ad fraud is the advancing technology designed to fight it. The best example would be to hire some of the many companies that specialize in fighting digital ad fraud like Fraudlogix, White Ops, and Pixalate. Firms like these have algorithms in place dedicated to detecting and preventing all types of ad fraud, which will save plenty of time and resources on your end.

How Brid.TV Protects Video Publishers From Ad Fraud

Not even the programmatic video advertising industry is safe from ad fraud. Luckily, we at Brid.TV offer a perfectly safe environment for all publishers and digital video advertisers to host, manage, and monetize (or advertise) their video content. 

Our online video platform has recently partnered up with Protected Media to ensure optimal ad fraud protection for all our users. Unlike with most other ad fraud protection companies, our partnership with Protected Media ensures our users will be safeguarded from ad fraud proactively, not retroactively. That means you will be protected before ad fraud takes. In other words, you will not get charged for invalid traffic if any is detected! We invite you to read more about this brand-new security feature and learn how it works here.

If you’re looking to host, manage, and monetize your videos without worrying about falling victim to ad fraud, we at Brid.TV can help you! Come check out what our video platform has to offer!

If you wish to try out our platform and all of its features for free, send us an email and start your free premium trial today!