This is a guest blog from Lisa Menaldo, UK Managing Director, Sublime Skinz

"Fraud ultimately follows dollars," Scott Knoll, Chief Executive and President of Integral Ad Science, rightly explained at this year's dmexco conference.

With the mobile advertising industry booming and global spend set to top $100bn by the end of this year, it's no surprise mobile ad fraud is hanging onto its coat tails. The latest figures suggest up to 34% of programmatic mobile impressions are at risk from fraud, including banners, interstitials, and video ads. And although many fraudulent practises have their roots in desktop, emerging and more sophisticated techniques specific to mobile platforms are increasingly on the rise. 

A fragmented ecosystem that encompasses numerous devices, operating systems, ad formats, and environments provides countless points of attack for fraudsters. However, marketers can drastically reduce the risks posed by mobile ad fraud simply by understanding the various types of fraudulent activity and implementing the right tools and technologies to combat it.

Mobile ad fraud falls into one of two categories: technical fraud, which uses technology to fake an activity such as an install or click; and compliance fraud, which tricks the user into performing an action, for example taking over a mobile screen with an ad in such a way that the user has to click to remove it.

Within the categories of technical and compliance fraud there are a number of techniques currently in use. These include:

  • Install fraud – this involves faking the download of mobile apps by simulating a postback event – where a traffic source counts a conversion that does not exist. Post-install fraud is also on the rise, with criminals infiltrating apps following campaigns to encourage app installs.

  • Click fraud – this either uses bots to generate large numbers of clicks, or tricks the user into clicking on ads using deceptive creative or redirects.

  • Impression fraud ­ this can occur when ads are stacked or when ads are served to apps that are closed and running in the background.

Here are some of the steps marketers can take to protect themselves from mobile ad fraud:

1. Use pattern recognition tools

Intelligent algorithms can be used to analyse performance, detect suspicious patterns, and uncover fraudulent activity. By understanding patterns of human behaviour, brands are best placed to identify any irregular activity. These could include a high level of post-install in-app events coming from a single publisher, identical time lapses between clicks and installs, a large number of clicks from the same IP address, or suspiciously high conversion rates.

When these pattern recognition tools are used in conjunction with programmatic real-time bidding, fraudulent impressions can be identified before a bid is placed, preventing wasted ad spend.

In addition, developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are expected to help solve the click fraud challenge by spotting and identifying irregular activity with tremendous accuracy, and on a large scale.

2. Validate actions with first-party data

Marketers can use their first-party data to verify activity and identify potential mobile fraud, and should share this insight in real time with their advertising partner. For instance, app installs are relatively simple for fraudsters to fake, but post-install in-app events are far more difficult.

3. Choose partners for quality not quantity

While a diverse range of inventory is important to ensure mobile campaigns reach the ideal audience and device, quantity is no advantage if a high proportion of ad placements are fraudulent. As well as choosing technology partners for the variety they offer, marketers should therefore judge them on their standards of ad quality and transparency.

If marketers use their own behavioural data to validate campaigns they may discover that app installs from a particular source have no post-install activity, signalling they are probably fraudulent.

As mobile ad spend continues to grow it's only natural mobile ad fraud will tag along for the ride, but that shouldn't put marketers off investing in mobile advertising. There are plenty of tools and technologies available to minimise the degree of fraud marketers are exposed to in the mobile environment and, as long as these are used effectively, fraud becomes a surmountable challenge.