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Ad Fraud and the Rise of Click Farms

November 5, 2020

How Click Farms are Stealing Your Advertising Budget Through Using Ad Fraud Techniques, and What You Can Do to Stop it

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

While bots used to be the primary method of ad fraud with fraudsters using malicious bots to generate fake clicks, increasingly sophisticated bot detection has led to the rise of a new method of attack: 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 Farm?

A human fraud farm is any setup that uses a large number of actual human beings to click on advertisements to websites, often going so far as to sign up to email lists, fill out forms 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 they are much harder to detect. The fraudsters operating these systems tend to are harder to detect because they are human.

There are essentially two types of click farms.

The first of these work with a single operator using hundreds of smart-phones set up on stands in front of them, in order to repetitively click on videos or ads, and to provide likes or follows to social media accounts.

click farm

The second, and more difficult to deal with, involve hundreds or even thousands of extremely low-paid workers crammed into often appalling conditions, operating as fraudulent users. While you may think that this would balloon the costs of human ad fraud and make it far too expensive to be worthwhile, this is not the case. Some workers are paid as little as $120 a year. The labor costs are minimal and far outweighed by the potential profits.

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. 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.

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. That they are doing this purely for monetary gain is beyond question, but that doesn’t by itself make it illegal and this is something governments across the developing world are currently wrestling with and without much luck.

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 earning 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 before any genuine users can even see it. This allows other companies to advertise without competition, or if it was a search engine ad, to climb higher on search engine results pages.

Regardless of who does it to you though, the result is the same, a failed ad campaign due to bad actors making it impossible for you to compete.

Are you at risk?

Unfortunately, if you are spending money on digital advertising, you are at risk. With over $300billion being spent on digital advertising each year, it’s too attractive for fraudsters to pass up. In fact, one in every four 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, Loans, mortgage, 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.

Have you been affected by click farms?

Click farms are draining your revenue, holding you back, and giving your competitors an unfair advantage. Signs to look for are:

-     driving in loads of traffic but seeing little to no conversions

-     seeing strange visitor behavior on your website.

-     clients complaining about traffic quality

-     seeing an increase in your credit card chargebacks

-     calling on leads that claim they never filled out your form

What’s the best way to stop click farms?

The best way to stop click farms is to hire an experienced ad fraud solution like Anura. Anura focuses on the user that visits your web assets. Using hundreds of data points, Anura can identify the most sophisticated types of fraud and increase campaign performance by reducing wasted ad spend, chargebacks, TCPA issues, and more.

For more information about how Anura can help protect against click farms and ad fraud, schedule a time to speak with one of our ad fraud specialists.

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