The ultimate goal of any advertiser is to reach the right audience and generate traffic on their website or app. To achieve this critical objective, companies set aside large budgets for marketing – vast sums of money that attract criminals across the globe. Today, with the boom in mobile advertising, fraudsters are inevitably targeting this subsector of marking too. This article will detail the different types of mobile ad fraud, so you know what to look for. 


In 2022, digital ad fraud cost the industry $81 billion. Since many commercial processes are becoming digitalized nowadays, the risk of fraud is therefore growing exponentially, so now is the time to take stock and act. 


To put things in perspective, in 2020, the industry lost nearly 10 percent$35 billion – of the amount spent on digital advertising that year to advertising fraud. Indeed, compared to other countries, the United States faces significant losses in this area. 


Given the scale of this fraud, there are unsurprisingly different types of scams used to commit ad fraud. Fake users or bots are one of the main types of mobile ad fraud, accounting for approximately 56 percent of all mobile ad fraud. Software development kit (SDK) spoofing also ranks as the second most common method of mobile ads fraud


As discussed, then, here are 10 types of mobile ad fraud that you should know about to protect your business. Unless you know about the different types of mobile ad fraud, you won’t know how to prevent it. 


Types of mobile ad frauds


 types of mobile ad fraud

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1. Bots and emulators


Fraudsters are using bots and emulators to commit different types of mobile ad fraud. You can run an emulator or emulation software on almost all devices to stimulate the tasks. Emulators can deceive advertisers as they almost act like smartphones. 


Thus, fraudsters perform various tasks, such as fake app installations, without involving any actual device. What’s more, they fabricate users and create fake attribution to claim advertising credits. 


A bot, in a nutshell, is a web robot. You can set one up and program it to perform various tasks automatically and repeatedly. It uses the internet to do jobs at a high-frequency rate compared to humans. Fraudsters use bots to commit different kinds of mobile ad fraud. Bots can produce fake traffic such as installs, clicks, in-app activity, and views


2. Click injection


This is the most advanced form of click spamming. With click injection, fraudsters use an android app to listen to installation broadcasts on a device. They will then trigger clicks before the installation completes. As a result, they get credit for the download. 


Unless advertisers use fraud prevention tools, it can be hard for them to Identify fraud undertaken through click injection. This can otherwise be an easy trap to fall into,  as criminals use junk apps to hijack mobile devices to get the information they need. Fraudsters also use this technique to create ad clicks that look legitimate to take advantage of the cost per install (CPI) payout. 


3. Click spamming 


Click spamming is one of the most unique forms of mobile ad fraud that fraudsters employ and is also known as ‘attribution fraud.’ The main objective of this kind of scam is to obtain credit for an organic installation. It means the advertiser does not have to pay for that installation in the first place. 


In this type of criminal activity, fraudsters send a huge volume of genuine-looking clicks to a mobile measurement platform (MMP). If there are any organic installations that show up on their list, the fraudster will be awarded the attribution and eventually get paid for the installation or click. This kind of fraud is successful when fraudsters focus on popular applications that people download. 


One way to identify click spamming is by examining the click-to-install time (CTIT). If this is abnormally high time, then it is almost certain that a click-spamming fraud has taken place. 


4. Device farms


Device farms are also known as ‘phone farms’ or ‘click farms.’ They are one of the most common methods miscreants use to carry out mobile click fraud. In this type of scam, criminals store several devices at a specific location, then employ people to perform tasks such as fake installs, in-app activities, clicks, and so forth. 


Since device farming is one of the simplest forms of mobile ad fraud, it’s very common. By programming their gadgets, criminals make it easy for their criminal ‘employees’ to do various tasks such as installations, clicks, etc. and make them do these tasks repeatedly. 


 types of mobile ad fraud

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5. SDK spoofing


Software development kit (SDK) spoofing is also known as ‘SDK hacking.’ It is a form of bot-based mobile ad fraud. In it, criminals fake installs or in-app events using real devices. They then conceal malware in an app that executes these activities. 


In this method, fraudsters add a code to the app they wish to control. This code will undertake many tasks, such as stimulated ad clicks, engagement, and app installs, sending signals to the attribution provider as if these actions are happening on the other apps. 


Through SDK spoofing, advertisers lose a lot of money by paying for hundreds –sometimes thousands – of app installs and other related tasks. 


6. Invalid Traffic 


Invalid traffic (IVT) refers to any traffic that is not coming from the right source. These include traffic that comes from spiders, bots, and crawlers. But not all of this traffic is malicious. IVT, which looks and interacts like human traffic, is the biggest problem. 


There are two types of IVT, general invalid traffic (GVIT) and sophisticated invalid traffic (SVIT). 

GVIT is ‘good’ insofar as it is easy to discern as non-human in source – unlike SVIT. Fraudsters create SVITs to fool companies and individuals into believing they are human. 


7. Ad stacking


In ad stacking, fraudsters place multiple ads on top of each other, and the user can only see the ad that is on top – all other ads are not visible. When a person clicks on the page or the ad, all other ads open up. This is one-way fraudsters generate impressions for ads people didn’t mean to click. And by inflating ad impressions, criminals also generate credits and earn big money. 


 types of mobile ad fraud

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash


8. Geo masking


Companies are willing to pay money to acquire customers from a particular place, as traffic from certain countries can often be more lucrative than others. For example, in general, traffic from the United States, Canada, or Europe is high-quality. 


Advertisers will therefore spend more money to reach this traffic. As a result, fraudsters use geo masking to conceal the locations of the leads they generate by spoofing IP addresses. Thus, these leads look more legitimate and valuable, making money on illegitimate activity. 


9. Pixel stuffing


Pixel stuffing and ad stacking are similar. In pixel stuffing, fraudsters place multiple ads on the same area of a webpage. The main goal of this criminal enterprise is to inflate the number of impressions these ads receive and to get paid for the impressions they subsequently generate for ads. 


Since all the ads open up when a user clicks a pixel on a website, they get paid for all the ads they place in that area. 


10. Domain spoofing


Domain spoofing is almost indistinguishable from phishing. In domain spoofing, attackers disguise themselves as popular businesses or publishers using fake websites or domains. They scrape content from genuine websites and use it on their own sites to gain the trust of users or advertisers. Since these fake websites look genuine, advertisers can sometimes be deceived into buying ad space on them. 


How to prevent mobile ad fraud?


To make sure they’re protected from all of these types of mobile ad fraud, advertisers should use fraud prevention tools or software such as Swaarm. It includes optimization rules that allow users to detect and prevent fraud from happening in the first place. Software such as this will help industry professionals safeguard their businesses.


In conclusion


Criminals use various methods or techniques to commit mobile ad fraud. Their main goal is to defraud companies of money designated for ad spending. This article explains some of the popular types of mobile ad fraud. By using fraud prevention tools to detect and eradicate mobile ad fraud, however, advertisers can stay one step ahead of online crime.