People who are of a mind to commit the crime of click fraud have lots of options for doing so. Also known as ad fraud, the crime can be perpetrated through ad stacking, hidden ads, and even taking advantage of accidental clicks. But the easiest way to do it is usually the best way. And what is that?
The Investopedia website says that “the easiest, least detectable way to commit click fraud is to create a website that hosts banner ads”, then use either humans or bots to continually click on those ads throughout a given day. The only downside to this method is that it can be traced back to the original perpetrator by looking at IP addresses. So scammers use VPNs or other means to hide their addresses.
Banner Ads and Bots
The banner ad method of perpetrating ad fraud is as simple and straightforward as it gets. The fraudster sets himself up as an ad publisher supposedly working on behalf of advertisers. What he doesn’t tell them is that their ads will never make it to legitimate websites that could actually generate precious traffic.
Instead, the fraudster’s website displays all the banner ads of his victims. In some cases, that’s all a site displays. There is nothing else on it. Not only that, but its owner also never intends for anyone else to see it.
A skilled fraudster can run a small script designed to automatically click all the banner ads on the website. And once it starts running, it keeps running. This is a click bot. More enterprising fraudsters will write their bots as malware and then deposit them on the machines of unsuspecting web users through nefarious websites. Those users become bot carriers. Their devices do the fraudsters’ work for them.
The Click Farm Principle
If a fraudster has the technical capability to develop and deploy a click bot, that’s probably the better way to go. But many don’t. So what do they do? They hire armies of low-paid workers who sit behind computers clicking ads all day.
According to Fraud Blocker, these types of organizations are known as click farms. They are usually located in countries with lax cybersecurity laws and an ample supply of low-wage workers. If their operations are discovered, they simply close shop and move on to another location. Then they start all over again.
Uncovering the Fraud
As Investopedia says, this form of click fraud is difficult to detect because scammers have ways of spoofing or masking IP addresses. The good news is that ad fraud detection software can fight back by looking at other data points. At a time when click fraud is a billion-dollar business, anyone who engages in online advertising should invest in a good software package.
Click fraud detection software looks for anomalies in the data ad platforms return. So even when IP addresses are spoofed or masked, they are not completely useless to an automated program that can analyze how often an ad is clicked, how frequently clicks come in, and how often the same IP address is associated with a click.
Anomalies do not necessarily guarantee that click fraud is taking place. But they do suggest that the risk is pretty high. So when the software recognizes anomalies and raises flags, the advertiser can dig a little more deeply in hopes of uncovering fraud.
Click fraud isn’t an especially complicated crime. It is actually fairly easy to commit. And unfortunately, the easiest strategies for doing so are often the best strategies.