Mobile ad fraud

Mobile ad fraud describes a variety of techniques criminals use to exploit systems that deliver or measure the ROI on advertisements.

What is mobile ad fraud?

Ads almost always have payment schemes attached to the systems that measure them (think CPI, CPA, etc.). And now, more than ever before, they come in many formats and with hefty budgets. This providers fertile ground for criminals looking to take advantage of these systems and steal advertising budgets for themselves.

Ad fraud is most often perpetrated by publishers as well as individuals/groups (aka fraudsters). These malicious entities go after the budgets of advertisers, agencies, and users.

Ad networks mark a unique case where sometimes they are the victim of ad fraud while at other times they are the perpetrators.

More specifically, mobile ad fraud is a subgroup of online ad fraud, conducted on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, and on two main channels: 

  • Mobile web – web browser located on mobile devices
  • Mobile app – mobile application environments

Why does mobile ad fraud matter?

In the case of advertisers, the implications of mobile ad fraud trickle down to each and every aspect their marketing initiatives, affecting current and future activity alike in the form of lost budgets, polluted data, and drained resources.

While advertising budgets are stolen, advertisers are far from being the only ones impacted – fraud damages are felt across all entities and players within the marketing ecosystem.

Types of mobile ad fraud

When examining the most common fraud methods, these can be broken down into 2 main categories: attribution hijacking and fake installs.

The main difference between the two categories are the users. 

Real usersFake users
Real engagementClean trafficN/A
Fake engagementAttribution hijackingFake installs
Real usersFake users
Real engagementClean trafficN/A
Fake engagementAttribution hijackingFake installs

Here’s a list of most types of mobile ad fraud:

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