Programmatic buying has significantly improved most marketer’s work life. Not only has it enabled brands to buy ad space efficiently it has also made it possible to retarget consumers across channels.

Unfortunately, the technology has also attracted those with less honorable intentions, and ad fraud has grown to become programmatic buying's biggest challenge and threat.

According to Ratko Vidakovic, roughly 60 percent of all digital display ad budgets were lost to fraud in 2015. There are also currently no full proof way for marketers to avoid getting scammed, but there are measures you can take to reduce the risk.  

Don’t turn a blind eye to fraud caused by human traffic

Firstly, you need to acquire knowledge on the subject. Although most ad frauds are a result of non-human traffic aka. bots, it’s a common misconception that fraud conducted with human traffic doesn’t exist. Furthermore, it’s harder to detect this type of scam if you’re only looking for bots. The most common types of human traffic frauds are:

  • Invisible ads
  • Arbitrage
  • Domain spoofing
  • Site bundling
  • Ad injection
  • Cookie stuffing
  • Click farms

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, I recommend you have a look at this condensed version of Vidakovic’s guide to ad fraud.

Demand transparency

In addition to these type of frauds, you can also risk being scammed by your marketing agency. Although you pay good money for them to set up campaigns on various channels, many still refuse to give you insight into campaign specifics, which makes it impossible for you to know if your ads have been shown to your target group, or to a completely random audience.   

The first step to prevent ad fraud is to demand transparency from your partners, but don’t just take my word for it. According to ad fraud researcher Dr. Augustine Fou:

“CMOs should ask for detailed reports from their media agencies AND put in place technologies or mechanisms to independently verify those numbers.”

You should also stay clear of inventory that is unmonitored and avoid buying from publishers who refuse to be transparent. Remember that buying cheap stock full of scammers never pays off.     

Analyze live campaigns

You should be looking for signs of ad fraud from the moment your campaign is live. It’s a good idea to use data from verification vendors as a backbone for this work, and keep an eye out for these red flags when investigating unknown publishers:

  • Domains with an unknown name AND very high amounts of, for example, impressions
  • Use of second rate or unknown exchanges
  • The amount of ad space they are selling doesn’t add up with ads displayed on the site
  • Poorly made content

This work of investigating your campaigns for fraudsters is best performed with a combination of manual analysis, help from verification vendors and use of automation tools.  

Use the right metrics

Don’t measure campaign success or ROI based on impressions or click through rates, even the number of “leads” generated can be deceiving as bots can be programmed to fill out forms and download content. The only number that you can trust at the end of the day is the amount of new customers generated.

An abnormally high click through rate should raise suspicion rather than celebration.


Don’t pay for fraudulent impressions

You should never have to pay for fake impressions or clicks, but unfortunately, the world of programmatic advertising still has a way to go when it comes to taking responsibility for fraudulent activity.  

That doesn’t mean you have to accept paying for scams. Take a stand and block payments. If your DSP refuses to cooperate, you should start looking for a new partner to do business with.