fraud squad

The Best of Mobile Heroes: The Fraud Squad

By James Haslam | October 26, 2020

The future of ad fraud looks rosy. An unintended and unwelcome consequence of mobile’s booming advertising business, it’s forecast that fraudsters will steal between $44 billion and $87 billion from the digital ad marketing industry by 2022. Yet with COVID-19, privacy concerns, and now the upcoming Apple ecosystem changes, it’s tough to keep the fraud threat top of mind.

However, that’s not to say fraudsters have it easy. Three Mobile Heroes have a particular bone to pick with fraud, and we’ve assembled them to remind those fraudsters of what they’re up against. Your attention might be focused elsewhere, but it’s time you listened up.

Know Your Enemy

Though it’s only half the battle, understanding your enemy’s techniques can only make your defense better. And Andreas Naumann, Adjust’s Director of Fraud Prevention, knows a thing or two about how fraud can attack your precious budgets. He tells us that there are “three common types of ad fraud: Click Spam, Click Injection and Fake Installs” that marketers have to watch out for. Here’s a rundown of each:

  • Click Spamming, which poaches organic traffic by executing clicks on behalf of users who don’t have a clue about what’s going on.
  • Click Injections trigger a user’s Android device to create a legitimate-looking “ad click” that steals the CPI payout.
  • A Fake Install is when a fraudster tricks a mobile measurement provider into tracking an install that hasn’t taken place on a real device, instead attributing it to a paid source.

Each method has telltale signs. Click Spam, for example, has meager conversion rates: “as in, you see lots of clicks and impressions on your campaigns, but very little in the way of installs,” Andreas points out, as well as by “an even distribution of click-to-first-open times…from a specific channel”. Fake Installs are relatively simple to find—you can spot them from “a high amount of installs with instant drop-off in the conversions funnel, usually right after the in-app engagement the advertiser is opting their campaign for.”

Click Injections are more complex. “Inconsistent click-through rates” and “above-average post-install metrics” are two signs of this type of fraud occurring, notes Andreas. Still, the biggest tell of all is from an “uncharacteristically high amount of installs showing unusually low CTIT (click-to-install time).” Click Injections are hard to see, so it’s best to verify with an MMP before taking action.

Read the full post of advanced fraud knowledge from Andreas to learn more from the fraud expert himself.

The Fight Begins

The best time to start fighting ad fraud was years ago. But the second-best time is now. So, on your new ‘Day 1’, TextNow’s Tyler Cooper has recommendations on getting started with your own fraud prevention strategy. To start, Tyler suggests defining your “normal behavior.” That means asking any number of questions, like:

  • What does the standard retention curve look like? 
  • What is the rate of in-app purchases? 
  • How much time does a typical user spend in my app? 
  • How many people download my app each day organically?

Once you have answers, you can move on to testing new channels. “Start small,” Tyler says, “and pick a few small ad networks for a test. Use this to establish a baseline of normal paid user activity.” The golden rule for these tests is simple: “keep a skeptical eye towards any new partner that seems to be driving results that look too good to be true.”

Taking fraud back to the networks can be a challenge, but Tyler backs marketers by stating that you shouldn’t be frightened: “Do not be afraid to challenge your ad network partners if something doesn’t look right. If you’re unsatisfied with the answers, pause the placement and move on. There’s always another traffic source to test until you find partners that you are confident can deliver high-quality, real users for your company’s portfolio of apps.”

Read the rest of Tyler’s blog to discover more day one strategies.

Choosing the Right Allies

Moving beyond the baseline to sustainable long-term strategies, Etienne de Guébriant, Head of UA at Gazeus Games, has a handful of tips and tricks to dealing with mobile fraud focused on picking the right networks to partner with. “To be effective in limiting the impact of mobile ad fraud, collaborating with ecosystem partners is key. But not all partners are fully prepared to deal with issues of fraud.” Etienne details a handful of signs to look for in the right partner:

  • Transparency is critical to see exactly where your offer is running.
  • Does the network have a direct relationship with the publishers, or are they re-brokering? (Avoid re-broked campaigns, it’s a high-risk, low-reward situation.)
  • Do their metrics match the industry standards per ad unit, including banners, videos, and playables? Metric definitions can be staggeringly different, so be clear on what means what they mean.
  • What’s the percentage of iOS vs. Android, in-app vs. mobile web? This allows you to see if their inventory has premium publishers or if it’s composed of poor quality apps.
  • How much time does it take for the partner to pause campaigns? If pausing isn’t immediate, ask why. A partner that cannot immediately pause a campaign is a clear indicator that they are re-brokering.
  • You will want to be upfront and clear with potential partners about your attribution rules, such as click-to-install-time (CTIT) and window of attribution, so they know exactly what they’re dealing with.

Finding the right partner is a crucial part of reducing the amount of fraud plaguing a campaign. If fraud is top-of-mind now, then auditing who you’re working with might be a great next step.

If you want more content focused on fraud-fighting strategy, catch up on Etienne’s blog.

Now you’ve got the full picture on fraud; it’s time to read up on our other Heroes’ stories. We’ve compiled the best on launching a new app, user acquisition best practices and a guide to marketing channels for you to learn from. Browse all our Mobile Heroes content to get the best mobile marketing-focused content around.