Mobile Growth Basics: Ad Fraud


Fraud has been a part of mobile app marketing since its inception, but Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) took note and started trying to prevent – or at least detect – fraud. Still, fraud rates increased in 2020 and, unfortunately, fraudsters are creative. Any time fraudsters find a way to thwart them, fraudsters just find a new way to siphon off marketing budgets. So let’s explore the important and evolving topic of mobile app ad fraud. 

What is mobile ad fraud? 

Digital ad fraud has plagued the web since the first web ad, but mobile ad fraud is different. The bottom line is that ad fraud is designed to inflate the amount of traffic your ads are receiving and get your ad dollars. On mobile it’s not just about fraudulent clicks, it comes in many forms. On mobile we see everything from fraudulent clicks to fake installs and fraudsters accomplish these goals in a variety of ways. 

ironSource breaks down ad fraud into the following categories:

  • Real user, real device, fake action: In this category, fraudsters attempt to steal organic installs using click spam and click sniping strategies, as well as malware and ad stacking. 
  • Real user, real device, manipulated action: In this category, fraudsters manipulate, mask, and modify real activity using compliance fraud, geo manipulation, VPNs , viewability issues, and click stuffing. 
  • Fake user, real device, fake action: This category includes fraud efforts that, without involving real users, mimic user behavior on real devices, such as farms and malicious scripts.
  • Fake user, fake device, fake action: This is the most sophisticated category, which is performed entirely on servers (smart bots and emulators) that mimic real user behavior, or hack the communication line among services in the attribution funnel. 

While the ironSource list acts as a good overview, the truth is, mobile ad fraud gets much more complicated – with many moving parts and lots of jargon. AppsFlyer put together a great list of mobile ad fraud types as well as some of the technology involved: 

Why is ad fraud important?

As with so many things, it all comes down to money. Ad fraud is designed to run up an advertiser’s bill with clicks or installs that cannot be attributed to a real person. However, the impact of mobile ad fraud is about more than just wasted marketing dollars – it can skew your data as well. If Ad A suffers from Click Spam the source of the fraudulent clicks may seem like it’s performing well, compelling the advertiser to spend more money in that particular channel – possibly even drawing money away from other channels with better legitimate results.  

How do you combat mobile fraud?

In the fight against mobile ad fraud, attribution experts – like MMPs – are your best friend. It is their job to not only figure out where your installs are coming from but to ensure the traffic is high quality. Some MMPs even go so far as to try to prevent ad fraud, so if you want to make the most of your precious user acquisition budget, an attribution partner that puts transparency first is key.