How Advertising Click-Fraud has Become the New ‘Gig-Economy’

By Yuval Haimov and Ilan Misullawin, co-founders of ClickCease

The “gig economy” makes our lives better, right?

When we think of the booming “Gig-Economy,” we think of tech platforms and applications which connect demand and supply in an easy-to-use online marketplace. It could be Uber, connecting a driver with a passenger. It could be TaskRabbit, connecting a handyman with a homeowner, or perhaps a Fiverr, connecting a freelance graphic designer with a small business looking to design a new logo. Whatever may be the case, we associate the “Gig Economy” with positive values like cutting out the middleman, creating new income opportunities and improving our lives by making services more accessible.

But it’s now being used to promote malicious ad fraud

What if we told you that one of the most malicious online practices is utilizing the exact same “Gig-Economy” to grow and spread? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in the world of advertising click fraud. In case you haven’t heard, ad fraud is one of the fastest-growing issues in online advertising and has recently overtaken credit card fraud, according to recent reports by CHEQ.

It is the practice of creating fake engagement with ads for profit, and it’s a huge problem for the advertising industry. If you ask marketers about ad-fraud, you’ll find that the common perception is that it is performed primarily by sophisticated hackers running complex botnets. But a recent study we conducted at ClickCease on the underground ad-click economy, we encountered an entire industry of pay-per-click platforms, operating out in the open like any other legitimate marketplace in a classic “gig-economy” model.

How does the advertising click fraud “gig economy” work?

In our report, we uncovered dozens of websites that connect people willing to click on ads, with people who are looking to drive inauthentic ad engagement, presumably to boost their numbers disingenuously and drive more ad revenue. So, if you’re an affiliate website paid to drive clicks through to a hotel website, and you’re getting paid by the hotel for every click you generate – you can now simply go online and search for ad-clicking services and you will find them in an instant. On the other side, if you’re looking to make a few extra bucks on the side, you can sit at your computer and click on ads all day while getting paid. It’s that simple. In fact, our report found that in 2020, over $13 million have been paid out to such side-hustling “ad-clickers.” These click-fraud marketplaces are offering anything from ad views and click to social media likes, follows, shares and comments.

How do these services operate so openly? Because they’re not necessarily illegal

The real issue allowing these click-fraud marketplaces to blossom in plain sight is that the legality of ad-fraud in general, and click-fraud more specifically is a tricky question. Laws and internet

regulations regarding ad fraud vary from country to country and it seems that much of this activity occurs in a grey area that isn’t technically illegal. While many of these activities can constitute a direct violation of a big platform’s terms and conditions, this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily criminal. This grey area allows this industry to flourish with little-to-no pushback.

If I’m a PPC advertiser, how do I prevent fraudulent clicks from wasting my ad budget?

There are a few measures PPC advertisers can take to reduce their exposure to click-fraud. If you want to take the DIY route – one of the best practices would be to monitor your traffic for suspicious patterns. For example, if you’re seeing abnormally low conversion rates from click to conversion, that could be a sign of click-fraud, as many of these services are paid to click the ad, but not to actually fill out a form, leave details or make a purchase.

Another best practice would be to carefully vet your affiliate partners to make sure they are trustworthy and reputable, so to avoid doing business with partners who might look to defraud you. Advertisers looking for a more comprehensive solution can deploy click-fraud prevention software to analyze all their incoming traffic and actively block fraudulent users.