Secrets of Programmatic Underground Market

How Fraudsters Steal Premium Publishers Identity to Dupe Advertisers

In the recent years, the online advertising system has experienced phenomenal growth in demand and supply. However the lack of appropriate supportive structures has left behind loop holes that have been utilized by fraudsters to rip unsuspecting marketers off their hard earned money through the establishment of Ponzi schemes. These schemes enable the fraudsters to up sell their low-quality inventory thereby cutting off genuine premium publishers.

The Genesis of the Problem

Programmatic marketing campaigns have finally unlocked the scale that marketers have so badly been wanting for a long time. With every marketer out to deepen the exposure of their brands, it is only natural that they will battle for advertising space and be willing to pay a premium for superior listing. On the surface of it, this looks a healthy sector but an attempt to dig an inch deep reveals a carefully masterminded network of fraudsters masquerading as genuine premium publishers. Using a technique called domain identity theft, there con artists manage to mask their identities so that marketers can buy their low-quality inventory which is mislabeled as high quality and premium inventory.

How these well Orchestrated Fraudulent Moves Are Executed

In executing their schemes, these domain identity stealers use two main strategies:

Low quality inventory fabricated through a variety of sources

There are lots of techniques used by fraudsters to fabricate low quality inventory. One of them is toolbar injection where the users (mostly) unintentionally install toolbar etc. on there browsers. The toolbars then proceeds to inject adverts into every website that the user visits. Once the ad is on the targeted site, it is then put on an exchange at a lower and irresistible bid. In addition to tool bar injection, fraudsters use pop ups sites for which they buy traffic to make them appear legitimate. The rest of the traffic is then generated through bots.

Modification of mark ups in ad tags

As a publisher, the exchange usually issues you with an ad tag which contains a code that identifies the domain the advertiser is on. Inasmuch as the exchange guarantees the accuracy of the markup, what it does not safeguard is the replacement of the code with another domain identifier. This is the loophole that fraudsters have exploited all along to impersonate genuine premium publishers. This is also the same technique used by piracy sites to bypass blacklist provisions.

The Devastating Impact of Domain Spoofing To Premium Publishers

Of all the players on the online advertising front, premium publishers are the hardest hit by these fraudulent ad networks. The publishers suffer on three frontiers;

  1. Lost Sales: Since the fraudsters target innocent buyers who are after premium publishing to short change them into buying their low priced fake inventory, they in essence siphon away potential revenue from the real publishers.
  2. Diminished Reputation: Whenever an advertiser encounters a nasty experience with the performance of a particular ad, the blame is immediately channeled to the genuine publisher. This is because the advertiser does not know that he was duped. Such a reputation damage takes long to repair and can have a ripple effect to other channels as well.
  3. Unsold Inventory: Both in the short and long run, there will be a glut of quality and high value inventory from real premium publishers. This is because of dwindling fill rates and buyers.

The Solution and Way Forward

Having seen the potential crisis that the online advertising industry can easily slide into, industry experts have developed a raft of measures to help curb the menace. Some of top solutions include:

Domain Identity Theft Surveillance

Premier fraud protection companies like Pixalate have come up with domain identity theft surveillance solutions that monitor and protect publisher identities on exchanges. Any cases of domains listed on an exchange that appear illegitimate because or URL mismatch are recorded and reported. Where needed exchanges are communicated so that appropriate action can be taken.

This is a real time fraud protection solution that has the power to stop fraudsters for good if different players in the online advertising industry agree to cooperate and work closely. Through this solution, exchanges will be under pressure to list domains only after a through verification process so as to bar domain identity thieves.

Cross-Industry Partnerships and Consultative Forums

The input of different industries needs to be harnessed so as to have a cross-industry consortium to fight these fraudulent activities. Such an organization will enhance transparency and go along way into unearthing these underhand advertising networks. Where there is no rule of law or a sense of control, disorder reigns. So as to fight impersonation and fraud in the online advertising arena, industry-wide protocols need to be formulated and enforced.

Verification of channel

This is a safe way to move away from the over-dependence on domains. Through the development of an updated model that impresses upon exchanges to verify not only the domain but also the seller’s paycheck name associated with the domain, cases of fraud can be nipped in the bud.

In the mean time, everyone from the publishers to the marketers have to be extremely careful when trading. It is better to be safe than sorry.