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Telltale Signs You Have an Ad Fraud Problem Don't let ad fraudsters win. It's time to fight back.

By Eli Martin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


By now you're probably sick of hearing about ad fraud.

You know ad fraud costs the industry $18.5 billion annually. You're well aware that for every $3 spent, $1 goes to fraudsters. You get that ad fraud is a costly problem, and no one is immune. It doesn't matter if it's pay-per-click (PPC), pay-per-call or display advertising, fraudsters continue to find ways to drain advertisers of hard-earned dollars. Even mobile, which accounts for 30 percent of all digital advertising revenue, is getting hit hard by ad fraud.

You may be thinking what's the point of constantly rehashing it when there's no solution in sight. Every time you get rid of one fraudster another one pops up. Might as well learn to live with it, right?


While you can't simply press a button and make ad fraud go away, there are ways to stop the bleeding. By knowing what to look for and which tactics to employ, advertisers can mitigate ad fraud.

First, let's talk about click fraud.

Click fraud is the bane of many advertisers' existence. You think your campaign is doing well, only to wonder why conversions are drastically down. Turns out your campaign is being hijacked by pesky bots.

There are three tell-tale signs that you're a victim of click fraud. Here they are.

1. You get a spike in clicks.

This is when you'll see an increase in click volume with minimal change in conversions or a spike in clicks from a keyword from one search engine but not others. Often there will be repetitive clicks from the same IP address too.

Your clicks may be coming from areas outside your target area. Don't be fooled. Bots pretending to be consumers are the culprit.

2. You have a high rate of abandoned shopping carts.

If you're encountering a high rate of shopping cart abandonment, you may have a click fraud problem.

Let's say you sell golf clubs. Golf clubs are one of those products that sell themselves. If you need a golf club, you will purchase one. It's not like you're trying to sell something abstract. If you're seeing a ton of traffic but no golf club purchases then you may just have a fraud issue.

Remember, while bots have the ability to download and fill-out forms, they aren't sophisticated enough to complete the purchase yet.

3. You have a drained budget.

When you have a drained budget and nothing to show for it, that's a huge red flag. Where did all of that money go? Unfortunately, it often goes to fraudsters.

Currently the music industry is feeling the heat from bots. Fraudsters are stealing huge chunks of money from music streaming services. It's so easy. It's like taking candy from a baby.

First, a fraudster sets up an artist account on a platform, such as Spotify. Then they upload fake tracks, and create a bot to stream those tracks on repeat. Now the fraudster is making a ton of money and cutting the artist and producer out of the profit.

Click fraud tip: To stay on top of click fraud, keep track of your metrics on a regular basis so you can spot any unusual activity.

Next, let's talk about impression-based ad fraud.

Twenty-two percent of impressions are considered suspect traffic. Imagine paying for an ad, and it's never actually viewed. That's the problem impression ad fraud poses for advertisers. Here are a few common types of impression-based fraud.

  • Ad retargeting: Bots pretend to be engaged users and are served retargeted ads that they click so they aren't viewed by an actual engaged user.

  • Video fraud: Ads are stacked, layered or invisible, triggering impressions even though nobody is watching the video.

  • Paid impression fraud: Paid traffic can often be riddled with bots.

  • Hidden ad impressions: Small ads can be hidden within larger ads, causing both to trigger an impression.

  • Fake sites: These sites are created for the sole purpose of serving ads, not content.

Impression ad fraud tip: If your reports aren't lining up, there's a problem.

Related: How Ad Fraud Ruins the Internet

Third, let's talk about ad injections.

Fraudsters not only utilize bots, they use browser extensions to place ads on websites through a nefarious tactic called ad injection. Once the ads are injected, they're sold by third parties without the owner's permission. And of course, any money that's earned is collected by the fraudster, not the advertiser.

Pinpointing ad injections isn't easy, especially if you're using programmatic advertising. Oftentimes, you don't know there's an issue until it's too late. But if you know what to look for, you can quickly remedy the situation once they're discovered. Here are three clues you're dealing with an ad injection:

  • It appears on top of an already existing ad.
  • It replaces existing ads entirely.
  • It's running on pages that weren't supposed to have ads at all.

Ad injection fraud tip: Keep an eye out for companies involved with ad injections, and try to steer clear of them.

Related: Giving Advertisers a Way to Bypass Facebook Click Fraud

Lastly, let's talk about pay-per-call fraud.

Some may think it's harder to fraud pay-per-call than pay-per-click. But fraudsters have managed to find a way.

To detect fraud, make sure you have set criteria, including a minimum call duration and key presses. Know your audience too so you can detect anything out of the ordinary. For example, a Colorado phone number calling about hurricane insurance.

To separate legit callers from bots or fraudulent serial callers, consider using the following.

  • Interactive voice response (IVR): With pay-per-call, it's imperative to use IVR to filter calls. You can create a series of phone prompts that will qualify calls before they ever reach a live person. While bots can click, they won't be able to pass the phone screening process and will be quickly filtered out.
  • Call recordings: Also utilize call recordings to detect any red flags. By reviewing recordings you'll be able to listen for any callers that may be just calling to for a specific time to receive payment for a call.

Pay-per-call fraud tip: Use IVR to qualify calls and be sure to review call recordings to detect any red flags.

Related: 5 Ways You Can Be Swindled by Click Fraud

Ad fraud is a nuisance that comes in many forms: pay-per-call fraud, impression-based fraud, ad injections and pay-per-call. No one is immune, and it's a costly problem that continues to grow.

It's up to advertisers to remain vigilant against fraudsters. The best way to do that is knowing the common signs of ad fraud so advertisers can effectively mitigate it.

Eli Martin

Director of Sales at

Eli Martin is the director of sales at the Delaware-based small business,, a digital-marketing firm that helps companies grow their businesses through pay-per-click and cost-per-call advertising. His company boasts one of the only real-time dynamic fraud-elimination tools, Traffic Advisors.

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