Website owners are inadvertently enabling click fraud, a sophisticated internet crime targeting online advertisers. Although unintentional, doing so is placing owners at risk of being banned by advertising networks, and may even land them with a criminal prosecution.
Click fraud is when cybercriminals masquerade as legitimate website owners to trick advertising networks into allowing them to place genuine adverts on their scam websites. Every time the ads are clicked, the advertisers pay a small fee to the advertising networks, which is then shared with the fraudsters.
But it’s not just the real clicks that are driving figures up. Click fraud becomes extra devious when the criminals are able to generate thousands of fake clicks every day. In this setup, bots replace people and are programmed to repeatedly visit fraudulent websites and click on the ads to generate revenue for the scammers.
A recent study by the click fraud detection company Polygraph found that payday loan companies are the most susceptible to this type of fraud, with the data suggesting that as many as 80 per cent of click are now fraud-related.
Most advertising networks make some effort to detect these bots. When click fraud is detected, the criminals’ advertising accounts are closed down and some have faced jail time.
Polygraph has warned the industry about how a growing number of legitimate website owners are now inadvertently dabbling in the crime, and are themselves also facing the wrath of the advertising networks.
Trey Vanes, Polygraph’s chief marketing officer, said they have seen an upswing in the number of website owners losing their advertising accounts in this way:
“There are companies on the internet promising website owners unlimited, cheap traffic. It sounds like a great deal – why bother advertising online when you can just pay a company to send you tons of real website visitors? Well, there’s a catch. More often than not, those real website visitors are bots created by the traffic company, and they end up clicking on the website’s ads.
“From the advertising networks perspective, that’s click fraud. It doesn’t matter that the website owner thought they were buying real visitors. If thousands of bots come to the website and repeatedly click the ads, they’re probably going to get paid for those clicks, even though they’re fake. They’re inadvertently doing the same thing as the click fraudsters.”
The company is urging clients to be extra cautious when using third-party traffic providers to boost the number of visitors to their websites.
“Not all traffic companies are shady, but some are,” added Vanes, “therefore, it’s important you check the traffic is legitimate before sending it to your website.”
In terms of practical solutions that’ll actually fight this type of crime, Polygraph has put forward its own click fraud detection service as a suitable solution. By sending the traffic to a test webpage which is being monitored by the service, website owners will be able to check if the traffic is human or a bot.
“By testing the traffic before sending it to your real website – and clicking on your ads – you can use Polygraph to ensure it’s real. Polygraph is easy to use, and our team are always available to advise you if you need help,” continues Vanes.
An additional layer of the service allows advertisers to protect their ad budgets by monitoring their adverts for fake clicks.
The methods have been created and refined through consistently monitoring the activities of cyber-criminals, using their own playbook built on inside information sourced by those who have previously been involved in committing click fraud and other cyber offences.