Fraudsters take advantage of businesses’ desire for brand visibility to steal money from their marketing budgets, but has a solution.

Marketing fraud is an insidious form of fraud that turns a business’s best intentions against itself. Victims of marketing fraud are often the business owners who trust first and verify later, taking an action or engaging in a transaction that seems innocent enough, until the true nature of the crime reveals itself. 

Note that this kind of fraud differs from so-called “mass marketing” fraud, which typically affects individual consumers rather than businesses. With that said, here are the most dangerous marketing fraud schemes we’ve encountered.

Ad Stacking

When a marketer pays for ad placement, they expect a relatively simple service: that the website displays that ad to its audience according to the terms stated in the agreement. Ad stacking takes place when a fraudster makes the same deal with a number of other clients and layers the ads on top of each other, creating a stack. Therefore, the top ad, the one visible to the audience, is the only one actually acquiring clicks, impressions, and views. The others stacked underneath it, hidden from view, get credited with the same clicks despite not actually displaying.

When you put a digital practice like this into concrete, real-world terms, sometimes the fraud becomes even more obvious. That stack of ads is a bit like offering one billboard to ten advertisers. Instead of displaying those billboards across ten different locations, a fraudulent company glues them on top of each other. No reasonable person would consider those to be separate ads.

Domain Spoofing

By pretending to be somebody they are not, fraudsters fool advertisers into thinking they’re paying for ads on a major website. A version of domain spoofing also occurs on a customer level, known more commonly as various kinds of phishing. Bad actors pretend to be reputable companies or individuals, hiding behind the easy anonymity of the internet. Although domain spoofing can occur whenever a criminal misrepresents themselves as a website they are not, it mainly comes in two distinct varieties: website spoofing and email spoofing. Both are variations on the same fraudulent act: pretending to be a website they aren’t.

Domain spoofing through email happens when a fraudster pretends that they write from a website with a trustworthy reputation. They make their emails appear to be coming from that reputable website in all of the ways visible to the user. As part of this, they often use logos and other marketing assets of the real domain they’re pretending to be as part of the deception. This method also proves useful for fraudulent ad providers when they make a fake website that purports to be one of much greater stature or trust. Both have one thing in common: they’re not real.

Illegal Bots

Those dedicated to committing marketing fraud often take no chances that their activities will go unrewarded. Not only do they employ tactics like domain spoofing and ad stacking in order to get fraudulent ads placed by innocent advertisers. They then use automation to create fake audiences of that content. 

The use of bots in social media campaigns for political purposes are well known, but those are merely an outgrowth of artificial intelligence used for other things. One of the earliest and most common uses of the technology used to create bots was in scenarios just like this one, where an entire army of fake people is created in order to artificially inflate the appearance of an audience. 

On the internet, marketers only really know their users by how they behave. There’s no way to easily or automatically determine whether the person looking at your ads or clicking on the links of your website truly exists. Fraudsters take advantage of that anonymity by using AI to mimic those innocuous behaviors. 

It’s no wonder why marketing fraud is so popular and so insidious–criminals use an innocent advertiser’s own perceptions against them and pretend to be companies they aren’t. By making an entire fake audience with bots, they then guarantee that their fraud appears successful by creating phantom clicks, impressions, and page views. Has a Solution

Fortunately, even the most successful fraud schemes have equally effective countermeasures. The experts at know what marketing fraud looks like, how to fight it, and how to protect businesses from it, from identity verification to data mining and more. Contact us for a demo of our products today.