Digital Ad Fraud – The What, Where, and How Much

According to Statista, digital ad spending in 2021 amounted to $522.5 billion. It’s expected to reach $835.82 billion by 2028. This is a reflection of the immense investment and dedication businesses are putting into digital advertising to capture their audiences and drive brand recognition.

However, amid this surge in digital advertising investments, digital ad fraud continues to plague businesses. It’s essential that businesses pay heed to this concern to make more informed decisions about their digital advertisement strategy, maximize ROI, and minimize risks. 

Concept of Digital Ad Fraud and its Impact on the Industry

Digital ad fraud refers to deceptive and malicious activities aimed at exploiting the digital advertising ecosystem for personal gain. It involves a number of unethical tactics, such as generating fake clicks, impressions, and even conversions or using automated bots to mimic human engagement (even to the point of sharing content through social media).

These fraudulent practices distort campaign metrics, drain advertising budgets, and erode the effectiveness of legitimate digital marketing efforts. This results in ads not being relevant to a user’s interest and becoming ineffective.

Ultimately, digital ad fraud undermines the integrity of the industry, negatively impacting both advertisers and consumers alike. It also frustrates marketing efforts by:

  • Diverting resources away from genuine opportunities
  • Hindering accurate data analysis
  • Distorting performance metrics

This not only hampers effective decision-making but also dissolves the trust between brands and their target audiences.

Common Forms of Ad Fraud

Some common forms of ad fraud include:

Cookie Stuffing

Cookie stuffing is a deceptive online advertising technique where a website or app places multiple tracking cookies onto a user’s device without their knowledge or consent. This unethical practice aims at falsely attributing referrals and sales, resulting in illegitimate commissions and revenue for the affiliate marketers.

Cookie stuffing is one of the most serious violations of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines for online marketing. By exploiting the tracking mechanisms of affiliate marketing or advertising networks, cookie stuffing artificially increases engagement and conversions, undermining the accuracy and integrity of performance analytics.

Domain Spoofing

Domain spoofing is the creation of a domain (website) that mimics the appearance of a legitimate website to trick users into believing it is a real website. This is done mainly for phishing purposes but can also be used as part of other fraudulent schemes. The “spoofed” domain name will usually be misspelled, with just one or two letters transposed from the original.

For example, the domain name of the legitimate website “” may be spoofed as “”

Click and Impression Fraud

Click and impression fraud is a type of click fraud. The aim of this fraud is to get paid for views that are not actually earned. To do so, website operators programmatically click their own website’s advertisements or pay others to do so in order to make it seem as if users have visited the site and seen an advertisement.

Forced Redirect Ads

We must have all encountered forced redirected ads at some time, where the link lads to an advertisement you did not intend to visit. This forced ads are a manipulative tactic used by malicious entities to divert users from their intended online destinations.

Forced redirected ads exploit vulnerabilities in website code and user interactions, often exploiting browser vulnerabilities or user consent loopholes. This practice not only wastes users’ time and data but also contributes to the larger issue of digital ad fraud — taking away the trust in online advertising and compromising the overall online ecosystem.

Geo and Location Fraud

Geographical or location fraud occurs when companies manipulate the geographical data associated with online interactions to deceive consumers. This deceptive practice involves masking the actual geographic location of users, devices, or traffic in order to gain illegitimate benefits from location-based advertising campaigns. 

Advertisers may be led to believe that their ads are reaching specific target audiences in certain regions when in reality, the interactions are originating from different locations altogether.

Combatting Digital Ad Fraud

Amid the surge in digital ad fraud, the need to counter this growing issue has intensified. As the digital advertising market grows more complex, organizations must proactively adopt comprehensive strategies and technologies to safeguard their investments and uphold the industry’s integrity. 

Employing advanced fraud detection tools, implementing strict verification measures, and fostering collaborations across the advertising ecosystem are some of the first steps toward minimizing the detrimental effects of digital ad fraud. Let’s look at them more profoundly.

Fraud Detection Tools

Advertisers need to adopt fraud detection tools that employ advanced algorithms and data analytics to analyze various patterns, behaviors, and anomalies — enabling them to detect and flag suspicious activities in real-time.

Ad Verification

Ad verification is like a digital detective that checks if online ads are playing fair. It ensures that ads are shown where they should be, seen by real people, and not mixed up with fraudulent activities or bad websites.

Third-Party Audits

Third-party audits are like getting a neutral expert to inspect and review something to make sure it’s working properly and following the rules. In business, third-party audits help ensure that companies are doing things correctly, such as following all applicable laws or maintaining quality standards.

Bot Management System

A bot management system is basically a security guard for your website or digital ad campaigns. It watches out for suspicious activity, like when robots (bots) try to sneak in and cause trouble. This helps prevent ad fraud by ensuring that only real human users see and interact with your content.

Anti-Malvertising Software

Anti-malvertising software works to protect your ads from getting infected by malicious software (malware) or viruses that can harm your website visitors. It acts as a protective shield, meticulously inspecting every ad before it is published to ensure it is free from malware, viruses, and other harmful elements.

So, What’s the Way Forward?

The digital advertising market is skyrocketing, and addressing the challenge of digital ad fraud is critical. But while understanding risks is vital for informed decisions, the surge in unethical practices distorts fairness and transparency. 

To counter this growing issue, it’s important that businesses realize what qualifies as deviant behavior, what are the associated consequences, and what steps can be taken to not let it escalate. 
Connect with us to learn more about how you can safeguard your online ad campaigns from fraudulent activities.