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Frauds in Paid Internet Ads

Updated: May 25, 2023

In recent years, the exponential growth of the Internet has ushered in a new era of digital advertising. Online paid advertisements have become a crucial tool for businesses looking to reach a wider audience and boost their sales. However, as the reach of paid advertisements has increased, significant concerns have arisen regarding the integrity and effectiveness of these marketing strategies.

Online ad fraud involves deceptive and fraudulent practices designed to artificially inflate ad performance metrics such as clicks, views, conversions and even malware downloads. These actions harm advertisers and consumers alike, undermining trust in the digital medium and wasting valuable resources.

Source: Malwarebytes

The financial losses caused by these deceptive practices are estimated in the billions of dollars annually, affecting businesses and consumers alike. Combating this issue requires a concerted effort between advertisers, advertising platforms and regulatory authorities to implement robust security measures, advanced fraud detection technologies and clear ethical standards.

Types of Fraud

There are several forms of paid ad fraud that have been widely used by malicious individuals and groups. Some of them are:

  1. Click fraud: In this type of fraud, bots or malicious people repeatedly click on ads with the aim of increasing the number of clicks and, consequently, the costs for the advertiser.

  2. Creative theft: Includes unauthorized copying or use of ad creative from legitimate companies to promote fake products or services. Thus, users are deceived and the reputation of the original company is damaged.

  3. Click Farms: Operations where hired people are paid to click on advertisements or interact with online content. Click farms can be located in low-cost countries and create the illusion of genuine engagement, when in fact they are just inauthentic clicks.

  4. False impressions: In this type of fraud, ads are displayed in places where they are not visible to users, such as in non-visible parts of the page or in hidden pop-up windows. This results in a false impression count, causing the advertiser to pay for exposure that didn't happen.

  5. Incentivized clicks: Applications or websites can offer incentives to users to click on ads, even without real interest in the advertised product or service. In this way, performance metrics are skewed and result in wasted spend for the advertiser.

  6. Traffic generated by bots: Automated bots can be programmed to visit a website or click on ads, creating fake traffic and inflating performance metrics. This type of fraud leads to mistaken decisions regarding the allocation of advertising budgets.

  7. Hidden Advertising: Some advertisers may attempt to hide or disguise paid advertisements as legitimate editorial content, misleading users as to the commercial nature of the content. As a result, ethical and transparency guidelines are violated.

  8. Information theft with malware: A new wave of paid advertisements with malware is on the rise. It is already possible to find several ads that simulate legitimate websites, but actually make people download malware to capture personal and sensitive information.


With the significant increase in the use of paid advertisements on the Internet as an effective marketing strategy for institutions in all sectors, the consequences of paid advertisement fraud are also present. These frauds, carried out through malicious practices, have significant impacts for both advertisers and users. See below:

  • Financial Loss: Scammers often use methods such as clicks and impressions or traffic generated by bots, to make advertisers pay for interactions that are not genuine. This leads to a waste of financial resources and negatively affects advertising budgets.

  • Metrics and analytics distortion: Fake clicks and impressions artificially inflate click-through and impression rates, tricking advertisers into believing they are getting better results than they actually are. That said, it leads to wrong marketing decisions and inefficient allocation of resources.

  • Damaged reputation: With ads associated with false practices, consumers lose trust in the brand and its products or services. The result is diminished audience engagement, lost customers, and lasting damage to the company's image.

  • Decreased advertising effectiveness: If advertisers do not trust digital advertising channels due to the high incidence of fraud, they may choose to invest less in online advertising or pursue other forms of marketing. This negatively impacts the digital advertising industry as a whole and will affect ad platforms' revenues.

  • Increased advertising costs: When advertisers fall victim to fraud, they may demand more security guarantees from ad platforms or adjust their ad buying strategies to avoid fraud. Consequently, there is an increase in the costs of implementing security measures or greater competition for legitimate advertising spaces, driving up ad prices.

Overall, paid internet ad fraud has the potential to undermine advertiser confidence, impact the effectiveness of online advertising, and cause financial harm.

Prevention Measures

It is important that ad platforms and advertisers adopt robust fraud detection and prevention measures to minimize risk, such as:

  • Traffic Check: Use traffic analysis tools to monitor and check the quality of your website traffic. This helps identify suspicious patterns and behaviors, indicating possible fraud.

  • Partnerships with trusted vendors: Only work with trusted advertising platforms and traffic providers that have robust fraud detection policies and systems. Carefully research and evaluate potential partners before starting a campaign.

  • Key Metrics Monitoring: Keep a close eye on key metrics such as conversion rates, average session time, and traffic sources. Significant variations in these metrics indicate inauthentic activity.

  • Click Authentication: Use click authentication systems, such as cryptographic tokens, to ensure that clicks on ads are legitimate and come from secure sources. This reduces the chance of spoofed or bot-generated clicks.

  • Bot and spider filters: Implement filters that recognize and block known bots and spiders, which are automated programs used to generate fake traffic.

  • Pattern Analysis: Use data analysis algorithms to identify suspicious patterns in user clicks or behavior. For example, if there is a high concentration of clicks from a certain country or region, this could be a sign of fraud.

  • Industry Collaboration: Join industry forums and discussion groups to share information and best practices with other marketers. Collaboration can help identify common threats and develop effective solutions.

  • Regular Audits: Conduct periodic audits of your paid advertising campaigns to catch any discrepancies or suspicious activity. This can help identify fraud that may have gone unnoticed.

  • Transparency and measurement: Advertisers should require transparency from their digital advertising partners regarding costs, performance metrics and ad placement. It's important to have access to detailed reporting and reliable measurement data to assess your return on investment and make informed decisions.

  • Collaboration and ongoing monitoring: Collaboration between advertisers, agencies, advertising platforms and technology providers is critical to meeting digital advertising challenges. It is important to establish an open line of communication and share information about emerging threats, fraudulent practices and security best practices.

Remember that preventing and detecting paid ad fraud is an ever-evolving challenge. Therefore, it's critical to stay up-to-date on best practices and new fraud trends, and be prepared to adapt your strategies as needed. Transparency, constant vigilance and collaboration between those involved are essential to ensure safe, effective and ethical digital advertising.

Do you use paid ads? Comment below!


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