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Online Advertising Fraud Dictionary: 35 Must-Know Terms

July 3, 2018

There’s a lot of terminology in the murky world of ad fraud. Whether you’re new to the advertising game or a seasoned player, trying to remember what each phrase and acronym means is frustrating.

Luckily for you, we’ve made this handy dictionary of common ad fraud terms you can use the next time you need to cut through the jargon and fix your fraud problems.

Online Advertising Fraud Dictionary: 35 Must-Know Terms

1. Ad Fraud

The practice of viewing, clicking, converting, or generating false interactions with any web asset for the sole purpose of earning money directly or indirectly.

2. Ad Injection

This type of ad fraud occurs when software “injects,” or inserts, ads on sites without permission. Usually, internet users unsuspectingly download a browser extension or toolbar that secretly contains injection malware, which then infects their computer and displays unsolicited ads.

3. Ad Stacking

Found on the publisher side, ad stacking is the act of placing ads on top of each other on a page, but only the top ad is visible. However, if a user visits the page, all the ads, even the unseen ones, are charged for an impression.

4. Authorized Digital Sellers (Ads.txt.)

Short for Authorized Digital Sellers, ads.txt is a system of plain text files that publicly disclose which companies are permitted to sell a publisher’s inventory. Ads.txt files are hosted at the root level of a publisher’s domain, making it easy for programmatic distributors and buyers to access the information.

5. Affiliate Fraud

To pad their commission payouts, some affiliates use deceptive lead generation practices to drive campaign traffic. This includes buying traffic from unauthorized sources, incentivizing leads, and using malicious bots to click ads and fill forms.

6. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

No longer the stuff of science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI), refers to a computer program’s ability to simulate intelligent human actions. AI gains its abilities through a developmental technique called machine learning.

Learn More: 3 Key Ways to Use AI for Lead Generation

7. Blockchain

A blockchain is a type of data structure that identifies and tracks transactions across a network of computers, creating a transparent and secure digital ledger.

8. Bot

Derived from “robot,” bots are automated software programs designed to carry out specific tasks. While there are both good bots and bad bots, most people refer to the malicious kind when talking about these programs.

9. Botnet

Usually controlled by a remote source, a botnet is a group of malware-infected computers that work together to perform specific tasks, usually without the computer owner's knowledge.

10. Brand Safety

This term refers to the methods used by advertisers to ensure an ad doesn’t appear next to questionable, potentially brand-damaging content. Brand safety is often subjective; for instance, a family-friendly brand like Disney wouldn’t want their ads placed on a site that promotes alcohol. But an edgier brand, such as MTV, might not mind.

11. Call Fraud

Ad fraud extends to phone calls, too. Call fraud happens when fraudsters generate phone calls that pass a billable requirement, like call length. Often, they use unauthorized data or prerecorded messages to complete a call and generate a fake lead.


Short for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart," a CAPTCHA is a visual or audio-based puzzle designed to block bots from executing certain actions, like filling forms or posting comments.

Learn More: The End Of CAPTCHA: Why It Just Isn't Cutting It Anymore

13. Click Bots

A type of malicious bot, a click bot is designed to engage with advertising and target cost-per-click (CPC) ad campaigns. Advertisers end up having to pay for phony clicks caused by these bots.

14. Click Farms

These organized operations consist of large groups of low-paid workers that are hired to click on ads and links in order to benefit a head fraudster. Many click farms are found in foreign countries.

15. Connected TV (CTV)

Not to be confused with Over-the-Top (OTT), CTV requires a smart device to access content. By using your smart TV or streaming device (e.g. Roku), you consumer IP delivered content through an app. 

16. Content Farm

A content farm is a website that hosts a large amount of low-quality content in order to game search engine algorithms. Content farms make sure content ranks high on search results, which in turn gives the illusion that the site attracts lots of traffic. As a result, advertisers are more inclined to buy space on a seemingly popular content farm.

17. Cookie Stuffing

It’s not as delicious as it sounds. Mainly affecting affiliate marketing, cookie stuffing involves planting third-party cookies onto users after they visit a website. However, the cookie they get is from a completely unrelated website.

Fraudsters use this “stuffed” cookie to track affected users. If any of those users completes a purchase, the fraudster gets credit for the referral, not the affiliate.

18. CPA Fraud

Cost per acquisition (CPA) fraud is usually associated with affiliate fraud. Affiliates get rewarded for promoting a product and sending people to a brand’s website, where they might convert in some way.

Fraudsters commit CPA fraud when they steal referral credits from affiliates. Types of CPA fraud include practices like cookie stuffing, mentioned above.

19. CPC Fraud

Cost per click (CPC) fraud is a broad fraud category that mainly deals with search manipulation. Generally, fraudsters target the most popular search keywords, as those yield the biggest payout.

The most common method of committing CPC fraud involves creating phony sites or content farms filled with high ranking keywords. The sites look legitimate, letting fraudsters sell ad space at a premium.

20. CPL Fraud

Cost per lead (CPL) fraud is committed by both bots and humans. Here, fraudsters falsely generate leads that will never convert. Some CPL fraud actions include filling out forms and clicking on ads or CTA's in order to trigger a payable event. Retargeting fraud, described below, is a form of CPL fraud.

21. CPM Fraud

CPM stands for “cost per thousand,” and it describes how much money an advertiser will pay for one thousand impressions. CPM fraud is a blanket term for fraud techniques that target impression counts, such as ad stacking or pixel stuffing.

22. Domain Spoofing

With Domain Spoofing, fraudsters change the URL of their sites so it looks like a more reputable site (think vs. Fraudsters then sell ad space on their fake site at a discount. Spoofed sites might also host dubious content, like adult themes, which could ultimately damage a brand's reputation should their ads appear on the site.

23. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation is a European Union law that aims to regulate the collection and usage of personal data belonging to a living, identifiable EU citizen. Under GDPR, companies are legally required to protect user data as well as empower users to control, monitor, and delete any personal information they want.

24. Honeypot

A honeypot, or blackhole, is essentially a decoy to block bots from filling out your form fills. By placing a dummy form on your site that's only viewable to bots, you are ensuring bots will be drawn to the invisible form instead of the real one. 

25. Human Click Fraud

Similar to click farms, human click fraud is a general term describing the act of using real humans to perform payable actions, like clicks and form fills, in order to deplete an advertiser’s budget.

26. Incentivized Traffic

Sometimes, in order to boost site traffic, publishers will offer incentives, like monetary rewards, to people who visit the site. Having incentivized traffic coming to a campaign is not ideal because most of the traffic probably won’t convert.

27. Internet of Things

Often abbreviated as IoT, the Internet of Things refers to the network in which any tangible object with internet connectivity can communicate with other connected devices.

28. Machine Learning

Heavily reliant on data analysis, machine learning is a branch of computer science that gives computers the ability to learn and improve on specific tasks without direct programming. Essentially, machine learning is what makes A.I. possible.

29. Malware

Malware is often part of the ad fraud mix. This type of malicious software is generally used to gather sensitive information or disrupt computer operations.

30. Over-the-Top (OTT)

OTT accesses content 'over the top' of an infrastructure provider. With OTT, you consume film or TV content via the internet, not through a traditional cable or satellite TV service (e.g. Comcast or DirectTV). 

31. Pixel Stuffing

Operating on the publisher’s end, pixel stuffing happens when a bunch of ads are served into a single pixel on a web page. Technically, the ad is viewable, but they’re physically unseen by users. Advertisers still have to pay for an impression.

32. Retargeting Fraud

This type of CPL fraud involves bots that mimic human behavior. Fraudsters program bots to act like interested customers. For instance, the bots may click through product pages or abandon a shopping cart full of items. These actions trigger a retargeting campaign, causing advertisers to waste money on these fake customers.

33. Spoofed Traffic

In the tech field, “spoofing” means masking one’s identity in order to deceive or trick another computer or user. Spoofed traffic is fraudulent traffic that’s been manipulated to disguise its origins.

Fraudsters use spoofed traffic to make it seem like real visitors are coming to a site from a variety of locations, when in reality, it’s probably coming from a single source.

34. Verification Stripping

By using bots or malware, fraudsters strip the code that's used to verify impressions. They are then able to mask any signs that domain spoofing or other types of fraud is occurring. 

35. Unauthorized Sources

Advertisers generally want traffic that comes from clean, trustworthy sources. However, to meet traffic demand, sometimes publishers acquire traffic from unauthorized sources that are outside of the agreed upon terms. 

Click here to explore the complete ad fraud glossary in our resources.

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