The latest fraud trends uncover fascinating results

By Michel Hayet
mobile ad fraud trends

It’s December, winter is here and you can just feel Christmas right around the corner. 

December, along with its many holiday traditions, is usually when you’ll run into almost every company’s yearly summary, showing how everything is bigger and better, throwing big numbers around in an attempt to showcase how awesome they are.

While that’s all fine and well, when conducting our research for this post we ran into another interesting trend that caught our attention.

A bit of background: 

In July of 2019 we introduced a new feature into our fraud prevention suite, Protect360, called Post-Attribution Fraud Protection.

While a new feature release is not usually a big deal, this one relies on a concept that went against the industry’s core belief – that all fraud can be blocked or at least identified in real time. 

Post-attribution is an additional layer of protection on top of our existing real time protection suite, meant to identify new fraud patterns as they materialize in our ecosystem and block them, even after the attribution takes place.

Fraudsters who are well educated about existing fraud prevention mechanisms, focusing their efforts on going through the install phase without being identified, are now less likely to go unnoticed.

Why is this important you ask?

Quite simply, it means breaking preconceptions about fraud patterns, where and when they originate and exposing yet another loophole that allowed fraudsters to thrive. 

Which takes us to this declining trend. 

Wait, isn’t a declining trend a bad thing?

This declining trend is one we’re actually very proud of. 

Since the product relaunch in July, the number of AppsFlyer customers using Protect360 increased by 28%, however the number of attempted fraudulent attacks on AppsFlyer’s clients (presented in the graph) decreased by 33%!

The number of fraud attacks reflects an aggregation of actually blocked fraud and identified attempts, meaning that since July AppsFlyer managed to decrease its entire ecosystem’s exposure to fraud by 33%   

This figure is amplified by the fact that Appsflyer’s monthly measured install count grew by 9% in that time period. 

Many fraud prevention vendors take pride in the large number of installs they manage to block, however, the question that should be asked is: 

Why are they going through so many attacks in the first place?

The answer is simple.

Fraudsters are no longer working randomly, they do their due diligence and choose their targets wisely; fraudsters aim for the injured gazelles, the easy prey, where their attacks are most likely to go under the radar, an experienced fraudster would already know which protection mechanisms are easier to infiltrate and which are less likely to damage their ROI by identifying their activity as fraud. 

A weaker fraud prevention solution can easily be identified by fraudsters mapping their target’s servers calls during their BI process. This can be done using different tracking and web-sniffing tools available online.

Same goes for the attribution provider’s SDK, with some SDKs more vulnerable than others for hacking or reverse engineering; open-source SDKs posing a much more appealing target than closed source ones, with their code exposed for anyone to see.

At the end of the day, fraudsters aim to achieve a positive ROI. They set their sights on specific targets that either don’t have active anti-fraud solutions in place, or ones using solutions they know how to bypass, steering away from protection solutions that are more likely to block them.

Simply put, AppsFlyer clients are significantly more protected against potential fraud attacks simply because they’ve chosen AppsFlyer in the first place.


Mobile fraud: Marketers’ massive hidden threat


Working on the cure

Several months ago, we discussed AppsFlyer’s commitment to not only treat the fraud disease but actually cure the industry from it.

The decline in fraud attacks attempted on our ecosystem shows we’re headed in the right direction. As we’re looking to truly solve the fraud issue rather than simply treating it, this fraud prevention trend fits into our vision of a fraud-free environment.  

But we’re not done yet.

If there’s anything to be learned from our experience in ad fraud prevention is that fraud is usually lurking in the corners where we assume it’s not.

No solution can ever be considered as bulletproof. This mentality is crucial to not only keep up with fraud, but possibly beat it to the punch, and to do that we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. The problems we don’t yet know about are the ones keeping us alert, as they’re the ones not reflected in the graph above.

2020 and the challenges ahead

A review of 2019 and the trends leading up to it will help us take a sneak peak into the challenges ahead in 2020.

Trends and numbers can tell a story and lay out upcoming targets as we attempt to eradicate mobile ad fraud from our ecosystem.

Evolution of fraud methods

New and improved methods are very likely to be introduced moving forward, targeting loopholes across different stages in the user journey, using technology we may not be familiar with yet. 


The evolution of fraud through the years has shown that fraudsters are not only adaptive but also very innovative. 

Constant analysis, modification and improvement of existing identification and blocking rules and patterns, as well as development of new preventative technology is imperative in order to stay ahead.

Going above and beyond (app install fraud)

In-app fraud has long been a growing focus point for fraudsters.

Going deeper into the user journey presents a double benefit for fraudsters:

  1. Whitewashing fraudulent app installs by falsifying user engagement beyond the app install point.
  2. Gaining CPA rewards for engagement measuring events or even in-app purchases

As more marketers adopt in-app event engagement measurement and reward partners using CPA models, we don’t expect fraudster focus will go away anytime soon. 

A global epidemic 

Each country and region pose different behavior patterns, technology adoption and market regulation. Some regions are slower to raise awareness to fraud, adopt anti-fraud tools or lack the regulatory ability to properly treat it, all of which could affect the entire ecosystem. 

Increasing global adoption of anti-fraud measurements, KPIs and awareness is required.

What’s next?

Vigilance and transparency are key for identifying new fraud patterns and protecting our ecosystem from those who wish to exploit it.

The fraud methods we know and are able to block are very likely to evolve, apply better technology and find new ways to make financial sense for their operators. The four fraud types mentioned above might break these operations into specified methods that are easy to understand and study, however reality shows that a combination of methods could be the dominant trend moving forward. 

The biggest concern at any given moment is of the risk we’re not yet aware of, these new types of fraud will require yet further steps forward in both perception and technology. While you are reading this article fraudsters are likely already hard at work on this next generation of ad fraud. 

As we look ahead to 2020 we aim for more declining fraud trends.

It’s our responsibility as ad fraud prevention vendors to make fraud operations a bad investment for the ones operating them, make their job as difficult as possible and aim to lower their ROI – pushing them away from our network. 

Michel Hayet

A former digital entrepreneur, Michel has experienced all aspects of the mobile marketing ecosystem. Studying the intricacies of the digital advertising space, Michel explores technology innovations surrounding mobile ad fraud, predictive analytics, and various tech-stack solutions that make mobile marketing safer and more efficient.

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