Hidden in plain sight: how to combat ad fraud and bogus publishers

Some fraudulent networks are flying under the radar by dispersing faked clicks among a multitude of short-lived sites. With marketers spending millions on advertising and vying for maximum viewership, fraudsters are constantly incentivised to defraud the mobile ecosystem and devise ways to dodge anti-fraud measures.

Katie Darren and Tyler Levasseur, client insight analysts at mobile attribution platform, Kochava, have the skinny.

You know the facts: Fraud is everywhere and its costs rise yearly. But fighting fraud takes time and resources—resources that marketing teams often can’t spare. Preventative fraud tools don’t catch everything, and performance summary reports from ad partners can be misleading.

Meanwhile, fraudulent entities are hiding fraud in plain sight by creating short-lived publishing sites. Using these sites, they can continue sending fraudulent clicks to bypass blacklist checkpoints and steal attribution. These sites will frequently have only a handful of attributed installs, which is unrealistic given the daily volume of ad campaigns.

Additionally, these network/publishers may have hundreds, even thousands of sites but with mostly poor quality installs. Although the sites themselves won’t have high click to install rates, the network overall will. Even if uncaught by fraud prevention measures, this is still click flooding, where the fabricated clicks have simply been dispersed among the sites. Unless you’re monitoring site traffic with a mobile measurement provider (MMP), you have little insight of the sites where clicks originated from.

You can identify suspicious activity at the site ID level without having to enable more tools but by including site traffic in performance reports and observing the number of sites and installs from them.

What can you do?

Preventing the maximum amount of fraud from your campaigns requires knowing what kind of activity to expect from your app, having trustworthy ad partners, and monitoring activity at the site level (in addition to having preventative fraud tools in place).

If you are suspicious of a partner—or even if you are suspicious of traffic too good to be true, here are steps to take in mitigating fraud to help get the most accurate representation of your campaigns.

  • Clean up your ad signal from partners. Make sure your partners are sending impression and click data separately to your MMP. Don’t accept ‘no’ for an answer, because at this point in digital advertising, partners should be able to do this.
  • Insist on transparency. Trustworthy and fully transparent ad networks are capable of providing site IDs that map to the websites or app bundles where the ads were trafficked instead of a hashed or obscure internal identifier.
  • Set thresholds for impressions and clicks. There are customizable traffic verification tools that allow you to set your own thresholds for impressions, clicks, and a host of other parameters. Ask your MMP for support as well in determining thresholds.
  • Target higher quality traffic. Get the most out of your ad budget by increasing your ad bids, and avoid fraud that is more prevalent among cheaper inventory.
  • Reevaluate your partners; choose new ones carefully. While you need to maximize your ad budget, avoid paying for low cost per mille (CPM) because the cheaper the traffic, the more likely fraud is involved. Do your homework on your ad partners and validate their performance reports with an MMP because if data seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Monitoring activity at the site ID doesn’t require more work other than selecting the option from your MMP. It’s another way to tweak your marketing efforts to avoid fraud and get the most out of your ad budget.

Katie Darren, client insight analyst, Kochava






Tyler Levasseur, client insight analyst, Kochava