The internet has made us connected to others more than ever before – but it has also connected us to scammers. In your quest to market your business or find a good deal, you may find yourself the victim of a pricy scam that compromises your money – and your identity. Here is what you need to know about fake products online, digital advertising scams, and how you can protect yourself against them.
What Is Digital Advertising Fraud?
Digital advertising includes the advertising of various goods and services online. It has quickly become one of the most effective and profitable forms of advertising. In 2018 alone, internet ad revenue surpassed more than $100 billion. Digital advertising fraudsters chase this money and try to convince business owners that their ads are more effective than they really are.
Business owners use their website’s analytics to keep track of how much traffic they have on their sites. However, digital advertising fraud manipulates this data and reports to the business owner that more people are visiting their site than there really are. For example, digital ad frauds might inflate ad numbers by hiding ads in other locations on a website that really are not getting attention.
Some fraudulent ads may redirect customers to a competitor’s site or a scammer’s site where they get your visitor’s personal or financial information.
Some digital advertising fraud schemes involve multiple parties, such as complete auctions where advertisers buy ad space on legitimate-looking sites only to later find out the site was a scam or hardly had any traffic.
Latest Trends on Fake Products and eCommerce Fraud
Because so much business is currently conducted online and on mobile devices, advertisers are expected to lose $44 million on digital marketing fraud by 2022, according to cybersecurity stats. The problem is even greater for consumers who are more often purchasing goods online due to the ready availability through Amazon and similar channels and most recently due to social distancing guidelines. Scammers sell products that they market as legitimate or brand name items. Then they deliver subpar goods or nothing at all. It is estimated that 25% of consumers have purchased non-genuine goods online and that two out of every five brand name products they purchased were counterfeits, according to a test by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection – which seizes billions of dollars of counterfeit goods every year – reports that these products cause major problems in our economy, by cheating legitimate companies out of a sale and not protecting the health and safety of consumers who depend on the products they purchased.
According to the payment solution provider Paypal, the most recent trends in ecommerce fraud include:
- Merchant app fraud – A scammer downloads your mobile app and pays for goods or services with stolen credit card information.
- Digital payment fraud – Criminals use stolen credit card information to order goods and services online, getting around the EMV protection on most cards.
- Signup fraud – This type of fraud occurs when one person takes advantage of a business’ special promotions by creating multiple dummy accounts and using stolen credit cards to get the promotional offer.
- Compromised business email – Criminals use sophisticated cyberattacks to gain access to a business’ money. In 2019, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received nearly 24,000 reports of this type of fraud, which resulted in losses over $1.7 billion.
- Account takeover – Fraudsters use stolen login credentials through data breaches, phishing, or hacking to make purchases online.
How Does Digital Advertising Fraud Work?
Digital advertising fraud works in a variety of ways, depending on the ad. For example, a phishing email scam sends an email to a user with a name that is similar to one he or she might trust. The user clicks on a malicious link, which causes malware to be installed on the device. The fraudster can then use the device to click on the targeted ads repeatedly. In other situations, invalid bot traffic or fake websites are used to defraud advertisers, such as in one infamous case that resulted in 1.7 million hacked computers and $30 million in losses.
Another common scam is a classified scam in which someone purports to be selling something. These ads are usually on legitimate websites or in newspapers, but the ads themselves are fake. Once the buyer contacts the seller, he or she is informed that the product will be delivered after he or she pays for the item. The buyer pays but usually gets nothing in return.
Facebook, Instagram, and Social Media
For many social media channels, this type of fraud works by showing that the user is interested in a product without his or her consent. In some situations, scammers install malware that makes it look like the user clicked on an ad that he or she did not in so the advertiser gets the pay per click revenue.
Online shopping scams involve scammers who pretend to represent legitimate online stores but create a fake website or use fake ads to lure customers into purchasing their products that are offered at a steep discount. Some scammers use social media platforms to create their fake online stores. The buyer is often asked to send money via a wire transfer, preloaded money card, or money order.
Digital Advertising Scam through Google and Facebook: Stats and Facts
Fraudsters may set up ads that look legitimate and then post them on Google or Facebook. Algorithms built into the ad track where the user clicks and then find them and target them. As you share something on your own page or a friend’s wall, your movements may be tracked. Once you seem to show interest in something, you may start seeing similar things in your newsfeed or emails.
According to cybersecurity stats, Google Search faces the second highest rates for click fraud, followed closely by Google Shopping.
Digital Fraud Ad and Bot Detection
Another concern with living much of our lives online is our digital footprint importance. Nearly every movement you make online can be tracked. However, some types of technology try to manipulate users and their online activity.
Bots can make advertisements look more successful than they are by showing that you had more visitors to your site because of an ad. However, this may be due to fake traffic or manipulated data. You may notice them because your business revenue does not increase despite a report of heavy web traffic to your site. For example, Facebook sued app developers it claims uses click injection fraud to install malware that clicks “like” on something without the user’s knowledge by using a specialized bot for this purpose.
This situation makes it more important than ever to have effective bot detection apps that can quickly isolate these bots and get rid of them so that they do not disrupt your marketing plan.
How to Protect Intellectual Property on Facebook, Instagram, and Other Social Media Channels
Part of protecting your intellectual property in the digital age is continuously monitoring for infringement. You can perform a reverse image search or search for your duplicate content on the web. If you find infringing material, you can report it to the social media channel.
How to Protect Yourself from Digital Ad Fraud
Fortunately, in this digital age you have several weapons at your disposal that you can arm yourself with to protect against digital ad fraud. For example, you can use a third-party ad verification vendor that provides campaign metrics for your ads, including viewability and invalid traffic. To add an ad verification vendor, you will need your own ad server so that you include the vendor’s unique tracking code in your ad tags.
Next, you should carefully analyze your campaign data to identify possible ad fraud. Look for:
- Suspicious publishers
- Unusual spikes in click-through-rate
- Suspicious traffic levels
Once you identify problem sites, you can remove your ad from these sites and reallocate your ad budget to more legitimate sites.
You may also want to maintain a blacklist that includes all of the publishers that you want to avoid. This will require extra time and patience on your part, but it can pay off so that you do not get targeted by the same low-quality publisher twice.
Digital ads can be a great way for you to promote your business or for you to find new partners to do business with. However, you must be careful in selecting vendors, suppliers, and others with whom you do business online, just as you would IRL. You can use the steps above to protect yourself from digital ad fraud while still being able to take full advantage of the interconnectedness the web provides.
About the author
Ben is a Web Operations Executive at InfoTracer who takes a wide view from the whole system. He authors guides on entire security posture, both physical and cyber. Enjoys sharing the best practices and does it the right way!