What is Ad Fraud and How to Prevent It?

In a previous blog about the ads.txt file, we learned that ad fraud can lead to devastating waste in ad spend and loss in advertiser ROI, and how ads.txt can help prevent the sale of counterfeit and misrepresented media in programmatic advertising. However, there are many other types of ad fraud that go beyond the capability of ads.txt, causing serious damage to the advertising ecosystem. In this article, we will discover more about ad fraud, the consequences it causes, and how to prevent it.

What is Ad Fraud?

Ad fraud in programmatic advertising refers to deceptive and often malicious activities designed to exploit the digital advertising ecosystem for financial gain. According to research by Juniper Research, ad spend loss due to ad fraud in 2023 is $84 billion, and it is expected to reach $170 billion in 2028.

Ad fraud loss

The Main Types of Ad Fraud

Some common types of ad fraud in programmatic advertising include:

  • Bot Traffic: Bots, which are automated computer programs, generate fake traffic to websites or ad placements, making it appear as if real users are viewing or interacting with the ads.
  • Click Fraud: Similar to bot traffic, click fraud involves automated or manual clicking on ads without genuine interest, leading to inflated click-through rates (CTR) and wasted advertiser budgets.
  • Domain Spoofing: Fraudsters manipulate ad exchanges or supply-side platforms (SSPs) to misrepresent the domain or website where an ad will appear. Advertisers may unknowingly pay for impressions on low-quality or fraudulent websites.
  • Ad Stacking and Pixel Stuffing: Ad stacking involves placing multiple ads on top of each other in a single ad placement, while pixel stuffing involves placing multiple ads within a single pixel. Both tactics lead to impressions being counted even though the ads are not visible to users.
  • Cookie Stuffing: It involves placing unauthorized cookies on users’ computers to falsely claim a commission on sales would provide better understanding. Fraudsters use cookies to attribute conversions or interactions to their own websites, even if the user did not visit them directly. This leads to illegitimate attribution and wasted ad spend.
  • Invalid Traffic (IVT): This includes traffic generated by non-human sources or activity that does not represent genuine user interest. IVT can encompass various fraudulent activities, including bot traffic and click fraud.
  • Ad Injection: Malicious software injects ads into websites without the publisher’s consent, generating revenue for the fraudsters at the expense of legitimate advertisers.
  • Geotargeting Fraud: Fraudsters manipulate geolocation data to make it appear as if ad impressions are coming from specific regions, leading to inaccurate targeting and wasted ad spend.
  • Fingerprinting Fraud: Fraudsters manipulate device fingerprinting techniques to generate false user profiles, leading to inaccurate targeting and attribution.

Ad fraud is commonly penalized very harshly because it typically causes catastrophic consequences such as financial losses, erosion of trust, legal and regulatory risks.

How does Ad Fraud Affect Publishers?

Ad fraud can have significant adverse effects on publishers in several ways. It leads to a loss of revenue for publishers as advertisers pay for fake clicks, impressions, or conversions. This occurs because advertisers may become wary of investing in digital advertising if they perceive it as ineffective due to fraud.

Additionally, ad fraud can result in decreased CPM rates for publishers. It artificially inflates metrics such as click-through rates (CTR) and engagement metrics, making it appear as though the publisher’s inventory is more valuable than it actually is. This can lead advertisers to demand lower cost-per-thousand (CPM) rates for ad placements, reducing the publisher’s earnings per impression.

Moreover, ad fraud can cause reputational damage to publishers. If a publisher’s website is associated with ad fraud, it can damage their reputation. Advertisers may blacklist the publisher’s site or reduce their advertising budgets, leading to a loss of trust and potential long-term damage to the publisher’s brand. More seriously, publishers can face legal consequences if they knowingly engage in fraudulent activities or if their platforms are used for fraud.

However, publishers are not always at fault for ad fraud. It can occur through various means, and publishers may unwittingly become victims of fraudulent activities perpetrated by malicious actors within the digital advertising ecosystem.

How does Ad Fraud Affect Advertisers?

It is undeniable that it is going to waste advertisers’ resources and spend. It’s estimated that ad fraud will cost advertisers $44 billion this year. But ad fraud can affect advertisers far beyond their balance sheets.

Ad fraud can distort targeting and attribution models used by advertisers to measure the impact of their advertising campaigns. Fraudulent clicks or impressions may artificially inflate engagement metrics, leading advertisers to misallocate their budgets or make incorrect assumptions about the effectiveness of specific targeting criteria or ad placements.

Advertisers may also incur increased operational costs associated with detecting and mitigating ad fraud. Investing in fraud detection technologies, conducting audits, and hiring dedicated staff to monitor campaign performance and investigate suspicious activity represent additional expenses that reduce the overall efficiency and profitability of advertising campaigns.

More seriously, advertisers may face legal and regulatory risks associated with ad fraud. If fraudulent activities violate consumer protection laws, competition regulations, or advertising industry standards, advertisers may be subject to legal action, fines, or other penalties imposed by regulatory authorities.

How to Prevent Ad Fraud?

Preventing ad fraud requires a multi-layered approach that involves implementing various strategies, technologies, and best practices across the digital advertising ecosystem.

Advanced Fraud Detection Technologies: The most common solution nowadays is investing in advanced fraud detection technologies, such as machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, to identify patterns indicative of fraudulent activity in real-time. These technologies can help detect anomalies in traffic, click patterns, and user behavior, allowing advertisers to proactively mitigate fraud risks.

Monitor Traffic Quality: Regularly monitor traffic quality and assess the legitimacy of website traffic and ad impressions. Look for signs of suspicious activity, such as unusually high click-through rates (CTR), low engagement metrics, or spikes in traffic from unfamiliar sources.

Adopt Industry Standards: Support and adhere to industry standards and initiatives aimed at combating ad fraud, such as ads.txt (Authorized Digital Sellers) and Ads.cert. These standards enhance transparency and accountability in the digital advertising supply chain, making it more difficult for fraudsters to operate undetected.

Ask Your Users for Feedback: Although some types of ad fraud, such as ad injections, can be difficult for site owners to spot, it can be easier for site visitors. Because of this, it’s worth making it easy for your site’s visitors to provide feedback on your pages and ads.

Vet and Verify Advertising Partners: Vet and verify the legitimacy of advertising partners, ad networks, and supply-side platforms (SSPs) before engaging in business partnerships. Choose reputable partners with a track record of transparency and compliance with industry standards.


Ad fraud represents a pervasive and ever-present threat to the digital advertising ecosystem, undermining the trust and transparency upon which it relies.

By understanding the nature of ad fraud and working together to implement robust mitigation strategies, advertisers, publishers, and ad tech companies can fortify the foundations of digital advertising, ensuring a fair and equitable landscape for all stakeholders.

Protect Your Digital Advertising Investment with PubPower

Ad fraud doesn’t just threaten revenue; it compromises the integrity of digital advertising efforts. At PubPower, we understand the importance of maintaining a secure and trustworthy advertising environment. That’s why our platform integrates advanced fraud detection technologies and is monitored by a dedicated quality team to safeguard your ad spend.

Join PubPower today and empower your ad campaigns with robust security, transparency, and unmatched efficiency. Let us be your partner in navigating the complexities of digital advertising and help protect your interests from ad fraud.

Click Here to Learn More and Get Started with PubPower

Together, we can build a safer, more profitable digital advertising ecosystem.

Social Media Marketing, Publisher Manager at PubPower.

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