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Maggie Cassidy
April 13, 2017

The Sneaky Smoke and Mirrors of Ad Fraud

Advfraud.jpgReal bad news, guys.

Did you know that online ad fraud will cost brands about $16.4 billion this year? Yikes. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money to flush down the drain. First ad blockers, now ad fraud? Jeeze. It seems like those of us in ad tech are playing a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. One problem appears, and we get rid of it. Then, seconds later, another problem comes along and we have to get rid of that one.

But what exactly is fraud in digital advertising? Well, it usually consists of creating fake traffic and impressions using content-scraping websites, displaying ads where a visitor can’t see them or some other outlet that delivers ads that are not actually seen by visitors.

So, essentially, fraud in regards to digital advertising is when a brand unknowingly pays a whole bunch of money for fake impressions and traffic. Sounds unfair, right? That’s because it is. A lack of accountability made sense during the old-timey days of print advertising. However, this was all supposed to change with the birth of digital advertising. Boy, were we wrong.

With the rise of new ad formats, programmatic buying and an increased use of mobile, online ad fraud got the sustenance it needed in order to make the world of digital advertising more difficult than it already is. In order to fight against online fraud and actually get valuable metrics, one has to understand what it is and who’s doing it.

Ad Stacking

Imagine ad stacking like it’s a virtual dogpile: a bunch of ads piled on top of each other with one ad at the bottom suffocating and being crushed by all of the other ads, while the ad on top is enjoying the fresh air and space. When someone visits a site with ads stacked on top of each other, an impression is recorded for all of the ads - not just the one that is actually seen on top. All of these ads are paying to be seen, but fraudsters just squeeze them all into one space. Talk about a rip-off.


A lot goes into online ad fraud, but the shadiest culprit and perpetrator of them all is . . . *drumroll please*: bots. These guys can do just about anything humans can. Bots can click on links, create web page traffic and basically behave as a human visitor. Bots are mustachioed villains when it comes to the web, and when groups of bots get together, they create botnets and even more havoc across the web. A few weeks ago, I talked about how chatbots should be every digital marketer’s friend. But as for these online fraud bots, these are some guys you want to keep your distance from.

Ghost Sites

And the Big Kahuna of them all, folks, is fraud produced by Ghost Sites. These aren’t your bedsheet ghosts that go ‘ boo’ in the night. These ghouls are real websites with actual content that is most likely reproduced or stolen from other too legit to quit sites. Their only goal in their cyber lives is to defraud advertisers out of their hard earned money. Ghost Sites make their fake sites available through ad networks or exchanges that participate in programmatic bidding environments, which ultimately generates false ad impressions that are purchased by advertisers.

These fraudsters are bad news, guys, and unfortunately, they are only getting smarter. The more alert we all are to their conniving ways, it’s less likely we will be suckers to their deceitful plots.

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