Fraud tales from the mobile crypt

By Michel Hayet
fraud tales from the mobile crypt

Sit down and listen, boys and girls, marketers and brands, publishers, and agencies, for these are terrifying tales from the magical realm of campaigns and banners, apps and mobile sites… where androids roam freely and apples grow wildly.

The world of mobile advertising is filled with scary creatures and monsters from which we must be careful.

So sit by the fire, grab some candy and listen to the scary tales from the mobile crypt…


Ghost clicks
Ghost clicks

The haunting tale of ghost clicks: Install hijacking

Unlike “real” ghosts, who are the wandering spirits of real people who passed away and are looking for revenge, ghost clicks have never been real.

Generated maliciously in the lab of a crazed fraudster, these clicks are only looking to cause trouble and steal attribution from unsuspecting marketers.

Malicious mobile malware will haunt an innocent looking app downloaded by innocent users. The malware will sit quietly in wait, listening for a new app to be installed on the device…

A device broadcast will announce the installation of a new app and the malware will jump into action! releasing an attack of ghost clicks, only to try and catch the last click before the app’s first launch, stealing the attribution from a hard working publisher.

Shape-shifting werewolf apps
Shape-shifting werewolf apps

The marketer’s field guide to mobile ad fraud

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The howl of the shape-shifting werewolf app: Spoofed traffic

Once in a full moon we’ll hear about a case of a werewolf app attack. 

These apps walk among us and appear to be normal, non-harmful members of any campaign. The unsuspecting marketer would think that the traffic coming from these apps is good and provides great quality to their campaign.

What marketers don’t know is that they’re hiding a terrible secret, their appearance is deceiving and in actuality the traffic you’re getting is horrible and sometimes even fake! 

Some people call them spoofed apps, as they present themselves as regular, well known members of the industry when hiding their terrible secret, but when the full moon is up in the sky we see them for what they really are!

Device skeletons
Device skeletons

The horrible tale device graveyards: Device farms

Often found in graveyards or “farms”, device skeletons are what remain of old or outdated devices, but could also be new devices who’ve lost their way.

Stripped down from what they dreamed of becoming and what they could have been, these devices are now only used in order to pretend to be real, living devices used by real people.

Evil graveyard keepers exploit these devices to generate impressions, clicks and even download apps to gain advertising rewards, only for the devices’s pretended identity to be reset and for a new one to be made up for them.

Frankenstein's bots
Frankenstein’s bots

The creation of frankenstein’s bots: Bots

Far, far away in the distant mountains of a remote country very few people have heard of, lies the lab of a crazy doctor, working on his hideous masterpiece, a horrible experiment gone terribly wrong!

Patching parts of different malicious programs, harmful scripts and device emulators, putting the pieces together to form a terrible bot whose sole purpose is to appear as if it was human for long enough to trick marketers out of their precious budgets.

Terrorizing marketers worldwide, this bot and many others like it, taking on different forms in different sizes will stop at nothing to fulfill their master’s evil plans!

Zombie clicks
Zombie clicks

Flood of the walking dead: Click flooding

Nobody knows what it was that created the first zombie flood… 

It could have been a malware on a user’s app that identified search patterns, a sophisticated prediction algorithm or a simple random click flood over popular apps.

Whatever the reason, each case released a wave of zombie clicks, flooding different apps in an attempt to falsely gain attribution for installs, taking bigger and bigger bites into marketing budgets worldwide and spreading the epidemic. 

Budget sucking vampires
Budget sucking vampires

The twilight of budget sucking vampires: Budget-wasting fraud

While ordinary vampires sleep during the day and wander the earth at night looking for their victims, the common budget-sucking vampire is always at work, never resting.

A schemer by nature, the budget-sucking vampire is always looking for creative, elaborate ways to seduce innocent marketers to open the door and invite them to promote their campaign.

These fraudsters – sorry – vampires will wisely remain under the marketers radar and say all the right words to gain their trust… all the while looking for loopholes, waiting for the right opportunity to strike and drain every drop of budget from the poor marketer.

There are a lot of monsters and scary creatures out there in the mobile advertising world, all of them are looking to snatch money and cause damage to marketers and advertisers. They each need to be identified and dealt with differently.

Whether it’s a string of garlic, a wooden stake, a cross or a silver bullet, Protect360, AppsFlyer’s fraud protection solution, has everything you need to exorcise the demons and keep the ghouls out of your campaigns.

This Halloween, don’t go trick-or-treating without the right protection from the risks and monsters who are just waiting for the right opportunity to strike!

Happy Halloween from AppsFlyer!

Michel Hayet

A former entrepreneur and digital strategy consultant, Michel is a digital advertising veteran and an expert in mobile ad fraud. Over the past ten years Michel has been studying the intricacies of the digital advertising space, focusing efforts on technology innovations, studying ad fraud methods in-depth and exploring techniques of fighting it.

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