The Affiliate Ad Fraud FAQ

February 8, 2023
Posted by
TrafficGuard

Everything you need to know about the bad actors wreaking havoc on your return on affiliate ad spend.

Affiliate marketing is an incredibly popular channel amongst advertisers, with research showing up to 80% of advertisers are using some form of affiliate outreach in their marketing mix. It’s an extremely popular strategy for good reason. Affiliate platforms allow you to immediately place your products and services in front of interested buyers overnight. You can leverage networks’ innate, purchase-ready audience without lifting a finger—a huge saving on resources.

Alas, fraudsters are ready and waiting to take advantage of the huge demand for affiliate marketing services, and the effects their activity can have on campaign performance are hugely damaging. It’s time to get clued up on the tactics undertaken by fraudsters, the impact they’re having on marketing metrics around the world, and the ways you can protect your campaigns while leveraging top-performing channels. Let’s dive in.

What is affiliate ad fraud?

Affiliate marketing fraud occurs when affiliates (websites who are usually paid a commission for promoting a product or service) use fraudulent means to generate revenue. As a branch of generic ad fraud, the tactics and end goal are pretty similar: deliver click, trick advertiser, get paid. But as a third-party to the original advertiser affiliates pose an even greater risk to budgets everywhere, much of their behaviour and traffic is out of the advertisers’ control.

How does affiliate ad fraud work?

Attack methods are only gaining in sophistication as more and more marketers leverage affiliate channels. Some of the ways affiliate marketing fraud is undertaken include:


Cookie stuffing: When a website drops one or more third party cookies onto a visitor’s web browser without the user knowing, in order for affiliate activity to be misattributed.

Domain spoofing: Affiliates use multiple names or sites to make it less obvious they’re committing fraud on a large scale and enable them to return as a ‘new’ supplier.

Compliance fraud: Affiliates deliver traffic that contravenes your affiliate programme rules, such as bidding on your own search terms in Google.

What are the effects of affiliate ad fraud?

Budgets are hampered and fraudulent traffic sources may be wrongly rewarded for delivering conversions—the effects of affiliate ad fraud are felt most strongly on the return on ad spend. Check out these case studies of two TrafficGuard customers, whose affiliate activities were being undermined by fraudsters.

Case Study 1 | A leading global entertainment platform

This global entertainment company engaged TrafficGuard when they believed they were being impacted by ad fraud via their affiliate activity. Compliance fraud was also a big issue for them, and they wanted to check if some of their affiliate partners were bidding on specific brand terms in their paid search campaigns which contravened the partnership T&Cs.

Using the TrafficGuard Affiliate solution they were able to identify huge amounts of affiliate fraud, discovering up to 25% of their affiliate traffic was invalid and therefore should not have been paid for. With the custom ‘Traffic Control’ feature enabled, all non-approved clicks from Google searches were invalidated in real-time. They also uncovered fraud from other affiliate channels and extended the scope of their protection to ensure they prevented any prohibited activity from any affiliate partners and did not pay out commission for sham engagement.


Case Study 2 | A global betting corporation

This bank was running affiliate campaigns in house, but their existing affiliate fraud platform lacked the ability to integrate with the necessary technology. This meant they had zero protection against invalid traffic and had no click-level mitigation.

The TrafficGuard Affiliate solution works happily alongside existing tools and provides full protection against invalid traffic. After integrating with one of the key affiliate partners to check for invalid traffic we found that almost 100% of the activity from this partner was fraudulent, with a very high incidence of click spam and impressions being misrepresented as clicks. We’ve seen our fair share of click spam, but these numbers were enough to shock even us.

Based on just this one partner, we could offer the client a solution that delivered 26x its ROI, and that's before you take into account the value of the budget previously being spent on ad fraud going to legitimate customers.

What industries are at risk of affiliate ad fraud?

While ad fraud is on the rise across most industries, sports betting is one of the hardest hit. In fact, fraud across gambling campaigns is second only to the financial sector in terms of click validity, with 34% of the traffic through gambling campaigns found to be invalid. Affiliate marketing strategies are hugely important in the highly-competitive sports betting industry where quick, easy customer acquisition is key.

The huge amounts spent on securing the most coveted spot on the SERP or on disseminating ads and offers across affiliate platforms are highly attractive to bad actors. Bonuses like free spins and bets are a tactic often deployed by bookmakers to attract new customers, but they’re also highly attractive to fraudsters. This puts advertisers in a difficult position, as one of their most lucrative and low-resource channels is also one of the major drains on their precious ad budget.

How do you stop affiliate ad fraud?

Preventative fraud management is the only way to ensure your affiliate campaigns are completely safeguarded from the effects of fraudsters. Lucky for you, we know a tool that can help…

TrafficGuard’s Affiliate Ad Fraud Prevention verifies advertisers’ affiliate activity to prevent misattribution caused by invalid traffic. Meaning you’ll never reward an affiliate for a click delivered by a fraudster again, so you can enjoy complete trust in your affiliate platforms’ advertising data.

Our full-funnel, multipoint solution measures the end-user’s engagement, intent and propensity to convert to give the the most transparent view of their advertising activity, enabling the best possible return on ad spend. TrafficGuard enables you to:

  • Understand which affiliate sources are delivering the most invalid traffic, and make informed marketing decisions based on those insights
  • Prevent invalid traffic being included in conversion attribution, protecting your ad budget from meaningless engagement
  • Create custom filters to manage your affiliate activity in the way that suits your business best
  • Drive return on ad spend by making your budget go further

If you’re exploring affiliate platforms for your marketing mix, or want to improve the ROAS of your current channels, you can get in touch with the TG team here. Looking to Expand Your Knowledge? Connect with Kalen Bushe, Global VP of Affiliate and Partner Marketing at TrafficGuard and discover how to maximise your return on affiliate ad spend. 👇

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