people crammed into a room all on computers

Ad Fraud and the Rise of Click Farms

November 5, 2020

Fake users, fake clicks, fake leads. This is what you get when you fall victim to one of a growing number of fraudsters that are hijacking your advertising campaigns through the use of click fraud and click farms, all in order to steal your marketing budget.

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How Click Farms are Stealing Your Ad Spend

Although malicious bots are one of the primary ad fraud techniques used by fraudsters to generate fake clicks, increasingly sophisticated bot detection has led to the rise of another common method of click fraud: click farms run by actual humans.

These human fraud farms are exploiting cheap labor in developing countries to operate hundreds of computers, to mimic real users, and fraudulently drain your marketing budget with meaningless clicks, and not a single genuine lead or conversion. This means that your business suffers, and you lose out on the results that you purchased.

What is a human fraud click farm?

A human fraud farm is any setup a fraud organization that leverages large groups of low-wage workers to manually click on paid ads online. Like their bot counterparts, human click farms wreak havoc on the digital advertising ecosystem. Click farms have people clicking on ads with no intent of converting. They just visit sites and rack up worthless impressions. These even often going so far as to sign up to fill out forms, authorize app installs or even make purchases.

The human element here differentiates them from bots, which tend to originate from one or a handful of fraudsters operating thousands of bots, and means that this method is much harder to detect. The fraudsters operating these systems tend to be harder to detect because they are ultimately human users, so they pass the criteria of "being human".

The two common types of click farms:

The first of these work with a single operator using hundreds of mobile devices set up on stands in front of them, in order to repetitively click on videos/advertisements or even to provide likes/follows on mobile apps for social media accounts.

click farm

The second, and more difficult to deal with, method involve hundreds or even thousands of extremely low-paid workers crammed into makeshift computer labs, operating as fraudulent users. While you may think that this method may be far too expensive to be worthwhile since it employs actual humans, this is not the case. Some workers are paid as little as $120 a year to commit click fraud around-the-clock. The labor costs are minimal and far outweighed by the potential profits, making click farm operators extremely lucrative.

This human element allows the fraudsters the mimic real visitor behavior by spending time on the website to simulate genuine use, filling out forms, and even completing eCommerce transactions, bypassing standard fraud detection. However, none of these transactions will be real. Because they are using real people to perform these actions, it is far more difficult to detect by entry-level ad fraud solutions.

Are click farms illegal?

There is another issue with these and it is one of legality. They occupy a legal grey area in many countries and so are far more difficult for authorities to stamp out. After all, these people are genuinely visiting your site, genuinely spending time there, and genuinely signing up for accounts there.

Unfortunately, fraudsters are using this tactic purely for monetary gain, with nothing but negative effects on your business. However, due to the human nature of this type of click fraud, this doesn’t by itself make it illegal to commit. Recently, governments and regulations have been spotlighting the need to mitigate ad fraud from the worldwide web, so advertisers may see a shift in regulations in time to come.

How can click farms hurt your business?

How a click farm will be used depends on whether it is targeting you for the purpose of stealing your marketing dollars or by your competition to exhaust your budget so their ads will show instead of yours.

If it is by a fraudster out to steal your marketing dollars, they will simply use these shady services to generate traffic to your site, hitting your click targets and begin stealing your potential revenue. In reality, however, you have not gained a single real visitor, a real lead, or an actual customer.

If this ad fraud is coming from your competition, the process is slightly different. Your competitors can employ the services of a click farm to spam your ad, burning through your daily ad budget to nullify your marketing campaign's performance before any genuine users can even view your ads. This allows other companies to advertise without competition, or if it was a search engine ad, to climb higher on search engine results pages (SERP results).

Regardless of who commits it, the result is the same, a failed advertising campaign due to ad fraud and human click farms make it impossible for you to compete.

What is your risk?

Unfortunately, if you are spending money on digital advertising, you are at risk. With over $300 billion being spent on digital advertising each year, it’s too attractive for fraudsters to pass up. In fact, 1 out of every 4 dollars spent on digital advertising is lost to ad fraud.

Not all companies are created equal though, and the more competitive your industry is the more likely you are at risk of ad fraud, as the cost for advertising is generally higher within these industries and so it becomes more profitable and efficient to steal your ad budget.

Insurance companies, loan services, mortgage companies, and lawyers are often the hardest hit by click farms, with keywords relating to these industries topping the CPC charts. That being said with the digital advertising industry booming and showing no signs of slowing down, the painful reality is that as the business grows, so does the profitability of scamming it. In this day and age, no one’s campaign is safe from the dangers of ad fraud.

Are you a victim of click farms?

 

Click farms are draining your revenue, holding you back, and giving your competitors an unfair advantage. Signs of click fraud include:

  • Calling on leads that claim they never filled out your form, with the potential to violate TCPA
  • Driving in loads of traffic (caused by click spamming or invalid clicks) but seeing little to no conversions
  • Seeing strange visitor behavior, like suspicious clicks, on your website
  • Clients complaining about traffic quality to their web assets
  • Increase in your credit card chargebacks

What’s the best way to prevent click fraud & click farms?

The best way to stop click farms is to implement an accurate digital ad fraud solution like Anura. Anura focuses on the user that visits your web assets & identifies the most sophisticated types of ad fraud to increase your campaign performance and overall growth.

For more information about how Anura can help protect against click farms and other threats, get a free trial now!

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