The Invasion Of Mobile Ad Fraud; The What, The Why, The How.

Abisola Tanzako | Mar 22, 2023

Mobile advertising is an effective marketing channel for various kinds of businesses. 91.40% of the world’s population uses smartphones. The potential impact of this is that advertisements through mobile devices are enormous. Due to the massive advertising audiences, many organizations use the free mobile app to create in-app advertisements. 

Scammers, however, take advantage of individuals and organizations that use mobile advertising by committing fraud against them. This fraud can be costly to businesses and negatively affect an organization’s marketing ROI and overall brand reputation.

Now let’s define what mobile ad fraud is. Mobile ad fraud occurs when scammers run various software processes (in-app, mobile web, etc.) on mobile apps designed to defraud advertisers of their money. It is important to note that there is a difference between mobile ad fraud and mobile fraud. While the former is mobile app software fraud, the latter is unauthorized cellular phone use like sim swapping, cloning, etc.

Why Does Mobile Ad Fraud Occur?

Mobile ad fraud is a quick illicit way of making money. Two factors facilitate this fraud. The first is that while audience and advertising demand grows, mobile content production becomes slow, opening up an avenue for scammers to take advantage of the content producers’ pages. The second will be that since the industry involved has yet to take action to curb these scammers, they are less likely to be caught and can go ahead without punishment. 

How Does Mobile Ad Fraud Work?

There are several ways by which these scammers defraud advertisers. We can divide mobile ad fraud into two broad categories an in-app and web browser.

In-App Mobile Ad Fraud 

In-app mobile ad fraud occurs when a scammer uses a mobile app storefront to scam advertisers. This ad fraud can play out differently depending on the scammer’s method. For instance, a scammer could:

  • Hide your mobile ad on the ones that pay by impression to avoid generating a false impression. This fraud is so that the app registers that the user saw the ad when the user didn’t work with ad stacking or pixel stuffing.
  • Deploy malware that can be clicked in an in-app ad when your device is inactive. This malware is sometimes called “SDK hacking (software development kit); the scammer adds malicious code to the in-app during or after the app’s creation or update. This kind of issue is familiar with freeware apps in app stores.
  • Engage in putting cookies on your device so they get credit for referral when users visit the ad site coincidentally. This malware is called “cookie stuffing.”

Mobile Web Ad Fraud

Mobile web fraud targeting mobile devices uses techniques similar to those for non-mobile web bot traffic. Techniques such as cookie stuffing, ad injection, domain spoofing, etc., work against mobile web ads as much as they work against desktop browsers.

Types Of Mobile Ad Fraud

  • Click spamming/flooding: this kind of fraud targets both mobile apps and websites. In click spamming, the in-app or website still functions at its usual capacity for the user but makes clicks in the background. This click will go unnoticed, but the fraud is going on.
  • Click injection: click injection is a sophisticated type of click spamming. This fraud targets Android apps, allowing fraudsters to detect when a human user downloads apps to earn credit for the installation. The app installation is accurate, but the ad engagement is fake. This means advertisers will keep spending money on ads, thinking the engagements are real.
  • Ad stacking: as the name implies, scammers stack various ads on each other with only one ad visible to the user and hiding the other advertisement. The hidden ad on the stack may get honest impressions, but users won’t be able to access content; therefore, advertisers don’t get value for their ad.
  • Cookie stuffing: tiny bits of code monitor users’ behavior and give insight into a successful campaign ad. This code tells you about campaigns that lead to monetary conversion and provides feedback on the user’s interest. Scammers use cookie stuffing to change the attribution of visited websites, allowing them to make more money.
  • Ad Injection: fraudsters use malware to fix ads on websites where they will usually not appear or replace existing ads with ads where these fraudsters can make a profit.
  • Domain spoofing: this is an imitation of a genuine website domain by fraudsters to make it look like a helpful website. The idea is to lure users to the fake website and trick advertisers into spending ad revenue on spoofed sites. Types of domain spoofing include human browsers, custom browsers, etc.
  • Geo Masking: Fraudsters obscure the geographical origin of their lead. They do this by spoofing their IPA( IPA spoofing is the process of hiding your original IPA by replacing it with another IPA for malicious and genuine reasons). The aims are to maintain and preserve hate, make it hard to know your location, or disassociate yourself from certain web activities. This act is used in mobile ad campaigns where the pay-per-lead varies depending on where the information is from; For example, geo-targeting campaigns.
  • Click fraud: click fraud is usually carried out by bots. They target PPC (pay-per-link) ad platforms to make people believe that human users interact with the website. They make the website owner place more advertisements, and by doing that, they are paying the scammers. Usually, the website owner doesn’t notice this fraud because they are also getting paid.
  • Forced Redirect Ads: fraudsters use online ads to deliver malware by putting a malicious ad on a webpage. These negative ads redirect users to a site with malware or spyware to steal the user’s personal information.

How to Prevent Mobile Ad Fraud

After all that is said, how can we fight mobile ad fraud and keep them from messing with our mobile ads? There are a couple of ways to do this:

Firstly, carefully review the analytic data you have been receiving. Pay attention to the impressions and clicks of your ad at every step of the way, go further to check for the clicks and ad impressions of specific users, and carefully review the traffic source. A significantly high or low click-through rate, retention rate, or conversion rate at any point would likely mean something wrong. For instance, if you are marketing a mobile app with a low click rate, it might result from install hijacking; if you have a high click rate, it could result from click spamming.

Secondly, if you run a campaign on social media, do all you can to reduce your exposure to fake traffic by restricting your ad reach to your narrowed-down target audience. Pay attention to IPs that view your campaign or visit your site, and exclude any suspicious ones. Find someone who can be dedicated to fraud prevention. This helps to be accountable and prevent fraudulent activities.

Finally, the most crucial step is using fraud protection software such as ClickPatrol. This software uses an advanced algorithm to predict, detect and block mobile ad fraud. Not only do they save you several thousand dollars in ad spend, but they also help you achieve cleaner traffic and reach more potential customers.

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