NEW YORK: Half of all ad fraud in 2017 will take place over the next few weeks, according to White Ops, leading to as much as $3.5bn in losses.

In a new report, 5 Ways to Protect Against the Q4 Ad Fraud Surge, the cybersecurity firm noted that advertisers lost $3.1bn during the 2016 holiday season.

Digital spending during November and December last year was 50% higher than the average of other months, and as spending increases, it said, more publishers turn to pay-per-click traffic to get more visitors to serve more ads; at the same time, bot traffic surges and traffic spoofing operations see their fill rates increase.

A White Ops analysis found that, between October and January, ad fraud spiked to 13.5%, more than double the prior quarter. The findings also indicated that fraud increases during key holiday periods, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“The holiday season is a critical period for advertisers, but it has the potential to be even bigger for cybercriminals,” said Michael Tiffany, president and co-founder, White Ops, as he urged advertisers to be vigilant.

That means demanding transparency from vendors about traffic sources and audience extension practices and looking skeptically at narrow targeting and ‘cheap reach’.

“As an industry, we need to be aware and partner together to stop ad fraud this season and into 2018 ,” he added, “especially as malicious bots continue to become more sophisticated.”

The plea comes a week after Buzzfeed revealed “how seemingly credible players in the ad supply chain can play an active role in – and profit from – fraud”.

The internet media business reported how 40 websites, owned by ad tech insiders, used special code to trigger “an avalanche of fraudulent views of video ads” from more than 100 major brands in a scheme that could have stolen as much as $20m this year.

But Mike Zaneis, CEO of the anti-fraud initiative Trustworthy Accountability Group, argued that industry action was having an effect. “We have stopped the dumb criminals. Now we need to be able to stop the smart criminals,” he said.

Sourced from White Ops, Buzzfeed; additional content by WARC staff