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Everything you need to know about ad fraud

By Nick Morley, Managing Director

April 8, 2020 | 6 min read

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To make digital campaigns successful, marketers need to ensure their ad spend is being used to reach real people. Whether we like it or not, it’s a fact that ad fraud does exist in the digital ecosystem and not all campaigns are being seen by humans. Digital ad fraud is any deliberate activity that prevents the proper delivery of ads to the intended audience, or in the intended place. Most commonly taking the form of bots, or domain spoofing, ad fraud thrives by siphoning off money from advertising transactions. It can come in many forms: pretending to be humans browsing the internet or falsely representing low quality inventory as high quality.

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Ad fraud is a problem that shows little sign of disappearing, but there are ways you can help the industry to beat the bots

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So, where are we at right now with ad fraud? Why has it not been resolved? And, what action can we all take to help stop it? Below, we summarise the latest findings on ad fraud, as we dig deep into an issue that continues to keep many marketers up at night.

So, where are we at with ad fraud right now?

Considering brands in the UK are spending around £23.6bn on digital advertising, understandably they want to know their significant investment in digital is not going to waste. Fraudsters, however, have a slightly different idea. According to the IAB UK, £7.3bn was spent on display ads in H1 2019. Considering that fraud hovers around the 1% mark even when optimisations are being made, we can estimate at least £23 million of that UK spend was potentially intercepted by fraudsters.

Fraud fluctuates depending on the country and the device. IAS sees from its H1 2019 Media Quality Report that fraud fluctuated from 0.4% - 11.7% depending on whether buyers implement an ad fraud prevention or detection strategy. Unsurprisingly, campaigns that do not utilise any ad fraud mitigation strategy attract the most fraud globally.

Ad fraud is a problem that shows little sign of disappearing any time soon, but there are ways you can help the industry to beat the bots.

Register to download the paper for free below:

What is the make-up of ad fraud?

Bots and falsely represented sites (i.e. domain spoofing) are the most known forms of ad fraud, according to the IAS Industry Pulse research.

Bots - software programmed to intentionally view ads, watch videos, click on ads, and will be used as a tactic to siphon off money from advertising transactions

Domain Spoofing - where fraudsters fool buyers into thinking their ad is going to a premium site, when in reality it’s going to a low-quality website

Ad fraud is also often referred to as invalid traffic (IVT), a broad term describing online activity that does not always come from a real user. The industry has categorized invalid traffic in two ways:

General Invalid Traffic (GIVT) - invalid traffic can be identified through routine means of filtration, executed by using lists or other standardized checks

Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT) - invalid traffic is more difficult to detect, requiring advanced analytics, multi-point corroboration, and/or significant human intervention in order to identify

What’s in it for the hackers?

Ad fraud is a readily available and straight-forward operation for those with the right skills and knowledge. To carry out criminal activity across the web, all a fraudster needs is a few computers and the technical know-how. Within the realm of criminal activity, ad fraud has incredibly high payout potential at a low risk to the fraudster, as it is difficult to penalise by law. Most ad fraud is committed in countries with indifferent or ineffective cybercrime law enforcement.

The process of delivering a fraudulent impression involves multiple parties at different stages — starting from a publisher, then a network or exchange, then a traffic broker and/or malware distributor. The process is so interconnected that it is nearly impossible to determine who is at fault.

What can you do to beat the bots?

Optimised-against-fraud campaigns in Western Europe are 10 times less likely to be exposed to fraud than those lacking protection. The argument to put ad fraud prevention technology in place is quite simply, undeniable.

You can learn what to do to fend off undesired ad traffic with our Ad Fraud Guide, a comprehensive ebook to help you fully understand ad fraud and mitigate its risk in your next campaign.

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Integral Ad Science (IAS) is a global leader in digital media quality. IAS makes every impression count, ensuring that ads are viewable by real people, in safe and...

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