The Fraud Examiner

Rampant Ad Fraud Raking in Billions With Fake Views and Websites

Mason Wilder, CFE
Research Specialist, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners                                 

Most consumers face advertisements practically all day across virtually every aspect of their lives — from auto-play web videos and pop-up browser windows to billboards, 30-second TV and radio spots and ads on public transportation. Despite the overwhelming extent to which genuine advertisements successfully capture people’s attention, several ad fraud schemes uncovered in 2018 revealed that the potential for advertising revenue exceeds the entire human population’s potential to view or click on ads.

The types of technology these fraudsters use are similar, if not sometimes identical, to other types of cyberfraud that fraud examiners should be familiar with — such as creating fake websites, and spoofing where traffic or data originates. Also, fraud examiners might not think about their organization’s advertising strategy on a regular basis, but this type of fraud has the potential to cost their employer a good deal. Coupled with the fact that many people in the advertising industry aren’t trained to spot fraud, this arena of fraud could be a blind spot for many organizations.

These schemes involve billions of dollars in advertising revenue fraudulently generated through complex infrastructures designed to mimic human behavior and convince companies that their advertising campaigns reached more potential customers’ eyeballs. Informal terms such as click farms might come to mind.

Estimates of the amount of fake traffic on the internet differ wildly — highlighting the difficulty of making any determinations in that sphere. New York Magazine approximated the number being more than 40% in December, while tech company Adobe and the Interactive Advertising Bureau trade group placed the figure at 28% and 36%, respectively, earlier in 2018.

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