By its nature, ad fraud is eclectic; it can be perpetuated by bots, malware, humans, or a combination thereof. Not only can ad fraud be carried out by all of these different actors, but the fraud itself can take many different forms. Here are some of the more pervasive forms of ad fraud on the market today:
This form of ad fraud occurs when publishers stack several ads on top of each other, leaving only the ad on top visible. Let’s say 10 ads are stacked on a website, and a visitor lands there. All 10 ads register impressions, even though the visitor only saw one. In this scenario, nine ads will fail to perform because no one can see them.
Ad injection is a more nefarious pathway for fraud. This method uses malware to infect a website to override normal ad placement protocols, opening the door to unwanted advertising that can be placed in spots that haven't been paid for. Even worse, these unpaid ads can replace legitimately purchased advertising space. Most injected ads are irrelevant to the website in question or feature inappropriate content. Due to the malware required to achieve this strategy, ad injection poses a significant risk to the sites in use. This scam can affect companies of all sizes.
Affiliate Marketing Fraud
Affiliate marketing is a marketing avenue in which businesses pay affiliates who can draw in new visitors or customers. Generally, the affiliate receives some sort of kickback for every new action generated, which can be in the form of impressions, clicks, leads, or e-commerce purchases. Affiliate marketing fraud aims to cheat merchants, buyers, or legitimate affiliates through the use of misleading or fraudulent activity to earn illegitimate commissions.
Pay-Per-Click or Cost-Per-Click Fraud
This kind of advertising allows an advertiser to place their ads onto a site or network and only charges them when someone clicks on their ad. Fraudsters take advantage of this type of marketing by using bots, malware, or humans to click on ads to make money. In some cases, click fraud is committed by competitors who are trying to deplete the competing company’s advertising budget.
Influencer Marketing Fraud
In marketing terms, an influencer is someone who has a large following on social media and is able to "influence" others to make specific buying decisions. Influencer marketing fraud occurs when an influencer is either using bots or other techniques to artificially inflate their engagement with the advertiser. Sometimes, the influencer isn't even a real person.
Lead Generation Fraud
Lead generation is one of the primary objectives of digital marketing. In a lead generation ad, online advertisements take users to a landing page where they can sign up to request more information. In order to commit lead generation fraud, a fraudster will use a bot, malware, or humans to fill in the lead forms using stolen information to bypass detection. This creates a myriad of issues for the advertiser, including legal compliance issues.
Pixel Stuffing Fraud
Pixel stuffing is a technique in which a standard ad is reduced in size and placed in a single pixel. The ad technically exists on the site and visitors trigger impressions each time it is accessed. However, individual pixels aren't visible to the human eye, so viewers aren't actually viewing these ads and any impressions generated are illegitimate. Because pixel-stuffed ads take up very little real estate, fraudsters can fill an entire site with pixel-stuffed ads to create the illusion of a significant number of impressions.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines viewability as "... greater than or equal to 50 percent of the pixels in the advertisement were on an in-focus browser tab on the viewable space of the browser page, and the time the pixel requirement is met was greater than or equal to one continuous second, post ad render." In essence, this means at least half of your ad is in view for a minimum of one second. Display ads are sold based on this viewability standard. Fraudsters know how to hide ads and trick the measurement companies into thinking they’re in view when in reality, they’re not. Also, note that the definition of viewability doesn't specify who is viewing the ad. Instead of a legitimate person, it could be a bot, malware, or a human fraud farm.
This list of the types of ad fraud is by no means comprehensive, but it should give you a pretty good idea of how sophisticated fraudsters can be. The good news is that, when it comes to stopping ad fraud, you’re not completely powerless. By investing in an ad fraud detection solution, your business can protect itself against even the most advanced fraudsters—maintaining your reputation, reaching more customers, and keeping more of your hard-earned money along the way.