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Click farms are one of the many scourges of modern advertising. Every day, companies contend with the threat of fraudsters who employ click farms (and other tools) to commit ad fraud.Left unchecked, fraud from click farms can have a severe negative impact on a company’s marketing efforts. These human fraud farms burn through their victims’ ad budgets and actively prevent advertisers from meeting their goals.
But what are click farms, and why can they be so hard to stop? Most importantly, how do you keep them from harming your ad campaigns?
Sometimes referred to as human fraud farms, click farms use real people to interact with ads online to click on ads, fill out forms, or even complete purchases (often using stolen credit cards).
Different click farms may operate in different ways. For example, some use massive numbers of ultra-cheap laborers packed into warehouses to click on ads for hours on end. Meanwhile, others may use sophisticated tools to allow one person to simultaneously click on or interact with numerous instances of an ad all at once.
Working conditions in a click farm are frequently described as miserable (if not horrific)—often resembling something from an early industrialization era sweatshop. Click farms are often housed in dark rooms with the only lighting being the digital screens the workers are hunched over as they endlessly tap on screens or mouse buttons.
The poorly-ventilated rooms often run hot because of the constantly-active devices and constant press of bodies—which can contribute to heat stroke or, in some cases, burns when workers touch overheated equipment.
For many of the underpaid workers in these digital sweatshops, this is their best opportunity to make a stable income, so they continue to work away in extra-long shifts despite the harsh conditions.
You could conceivably find a click farm almost anywhere on the globe where both cheap labor and internet connectivity exists. This list of click farm locations includes countries like China, India, Taiwan, Russia, and Venezuela—though click farms are not limited to these areas.
So, what makes a click farm so difficult to stop? There are a few problems that make these centers for fraud incredibly tough to fight:
One of the biggest challenges in fighting human fraud farms compared to bots is that many fraud detection algorithms and experts have a harder time identifying the activity as fraud.
Bots (especially less sophisticated ones) often behave in ways atypical of a human—such as clicking on an ad less than a second after the webpage loads—which make them easier to identify.
With real people behind the screen, fraudulent activity will look more realistic—making it harder to spot fraud so you can fight it.
This isn’t to say that human fraud farm activity is undetectable. It’s just more difficult to detect for less capable ad fraud solutions and experts. A top-notch ad fraud solution can still identify the abnormal traffic from a click fraud farm operation.
Another issue that can make fighting fraud farms difficult is the sheer number and variety of devices that they will use. They’ll have workers clicking on ads and filling out forms from all makes and models of older smartphones, laptops, desktop PCs, tablets, etc. running different operating systems and internet browsers.
When combined with the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and device spoofing techniques (which allow one type of device to look like different types of devices), it becomes incredibly difficult to identify the traffic as coming from a single source. Instead of a million clicks coming from a single device, OS, and browser, each click seems to come from a unique source or combination of device ID information.
This serves to obfuscate the fact that all of the clicks or form fills are coming from a single fraud farm.
Click farms aren’t technically illegal in most of the countries where they operate. Despite certain countries, such as China, deeming click farms illegal, click farms remain a common phenomenon there.
Even when they’re deemed illegal, some of the countries that click farms can be found in, such as China, Indonesia, or Russia, don’t have extradition treaties with the U.S.—and good luck convincing a foreign law enforcement agency to take action against a local business!
Without the ability to get a regulatory body to intervene—either because the fraud farm is considered a legitimate business or the regulatory body isn’t interested in investigating crimes against non-local businesses—it’s incredibly hard to put a stop to fraud farms through official channels.
There are a few tools and tricks that can thwart a simple bot program that will barely even slow down a human-based click fraud operation.
Take, for example, honeypot form fields. This is an old trick that uses hidden form fields to trick bots into outing themselves as bots. The basic technique involves creating a form field that only exists in the page’s backend code.
Humans can’t see the form field, but a bot crawling the page will see it and attempt to fill it out since they don’t see the webpage the same way a person would.
This trick wouldn’t work on a person from a human fraud operation since they wouldn’t see the honeypot form in the first place.
Similarly, the Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) tools used by many to block bots wouldn’t work either. At least, they’d be no more effective at stopping human fraud activity than they would at stopping legitimate users from clicking ads and filling forms.
Wondering how to avoid click fraud? With the human activity behind fraud farms making them more nuanced and difficult to detect, stopping click fraud can be a difficult task that requires experience and precision.
Here are a few tips on stopping human fraud farms from impacting your online ad campaigns:
If you’re determined to manually seek out click fraud so you can stop it, it’s important to learn the warning signs of fraud.
These signs usually include things like:
Knowing these warning signs can help you put a stop to click fraud. However, because a manual review takes so long to complete, you may end up losing money while you’re waiting on your analysis to complete.
Before adding a new affiliate marketing partner to your ad campaigns, be sure to closely evaluate them. Vetting affiliates is a basic ad fraud prevention tactic since adding the wrong partner could mean letting the foxes into your proverbial henhouse.
When vetting affiliates, it’s important to examine not just how many subscribers/followers, likes/upvotes, and comments that they have on their content, but the quality of those interactions.
For example, are all of the affiliate’s followers from low-quality accounts with little activity that isn’t directly related to that affiliate’s social network profile? That could be a quick account created in a click farm to artificially inflate the affiliate’s social profile.
If most of the affiliate’s content boils down to generic compliments that could fit anything (or are loaded with egregious spelling and grammar errors), that could indicate someone in an overseas sweatshop simply writing as many comments as possible on different devices and accounts (or a badly-written bot script).
Conducting a close examination can help you spot bad or fake influencers who plan to steal your ad budget and run.
The best way to stop click fraud in its tracks is to use a proven ad fraud solution to take the guesswork out of identifying fraud. However, not just any ad fraud solution will do. It’s important to choose the right ad fraud solution that will maximize fraud detection while eliminating the risk of false positives.
This is where Anura can help. Anura’s ad fraud solution compares hundreds of data points about each visitor to your website against a database of real conversion data going back over several decades of information.
By going above and beyond the bare minimum of 1-2 vanity metrics employed by some ad fraud “solution” providers, Anura ensures greater accuracy and eliminates false positives—which helps you maximize your ROI for your ad spend.
Need help eliminating fraud from click farms and bots alike? Reach out to Anura today and ask for a free demo to get started!
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