Click Fraud

Is click fraud real and are those services worth it? 

Yes, click fraud is real and Google even refunded one of the companies I worked for over $5,000.00 in fees when I proved it. 

It was a traffic school and we started a Google Adwords (back then) campaign in June. Actually, we fired one up that they made an attempt at running and had no success. After completely reworking the campaign we started it up. They had a CPA of $30 and we came in at $28. Sounds good huh? Well, because these people were data freaks they allowed me to do A/B testing and spend money on research to improve their campaigns. We lowered that to $6 per CPA. It was like taking candy from a baby. We were thrilled. Then the holiday season came. 

In many industries the holiday season is a death nel. For many it is where they make their bread and butter but others, it is their worst time of year. Traffic school is one of those industries that falls off around the holidays. Then the day after Christmas it starts to pick up. Like a jump in the graph every year as reliable as clockwork. So we expected big things after the holidays. It did with organic but not PPC. That was odd but since it was their first year through with the PPC on I gave it a week. But still no improvement. 

I began to look into it and saw odd traffic patterns in Google Analytics. What was odd was that I had all my campaigns set just to appear in the state of Ohio. Yet I was seeing a lot of traffic from the Detroit area. Upon further investigation I found that they were all primarily from t-mobile cell service. I blocked t-mobile and numbers began to rebound for a few days. Then it was another block ot t-mobile with AT&T now. 

I wanted to stop this and with the Internet there are built in ways to do that by ICANN rules. You contact the hosting company and they will investigate it and stop any websites from using any technology to manipulate rankings. But this wasn’t a website. This was an app. On cell phones. 

See, the way click fraud used to be done was with a computer with a script running on it. The script uses a browser and puts in a search and then clicks links that the user defined. So they look for XYZ product and then click on the ABC website. That burns up that users budget. The search engines claim they check on this stuff and refund you. The next day. You still were shut down the previous day. 

Fraud like that is what the whole verification system is for. You know, when you have to click on pictures of things to prove you’re a human? But this was on cell phones. So there must be some way that they have a similar system, right? Of course they do. They are not so dumb as to build a system that has no controls or responsibility built into it. Right? 

Well, come to find out, wrong! Yep, the whole cell phone system is designed to work on what are called dynamic IPS. See, every device that connects to the internet is assigned an IP. Like a phone number but it is temporary. Particularly for cell phones. In fact, every time you connect you get a new one. Your home computer that connects by high speed internet gets one, well the router gets one, every several months it rotates. Cell phones, every time they connect. 

So when I reached out to the cell phone companies I asked about a fraud department or something that deals with fraud like the ISP companies. Wasn’t one. So I asked for legal and that is when I learned about the dynamic IP system and that is the foundation of the system and it can’t be change nor monitored. So it is super easy for people to set up rooms with cell phones that run apps that click on ads because there is no way to monitor it and to deal with it or defeat it. Every time a phone logs on it gets a new IP. It is how it works. It is literally whack-a-mole in real life. You can never win. 

Seeing that a super high number of clicks were coming from Detroit, which isn’t in Ohio, I wanted to learn more. So I visited a well known website that has groups for cities and I joined the one for Detroit. I asked in the group if there was anyone who work revolved around websites, PPC or digital marketing in general. A few people chimed in. I asked if there was any way people could be doing click fraud from there. 

Right away I got responses that “yeah, they use the abandoned houses and generators to power the phones. They have tables and tables of them all plugged in and running away”. 

I was shocked. So you mean they set this stuff up, people know about it and no one does anything about it? But who would? There is no internet police so someone would have to sue someone. Which means you’d have to take them to court. These whole operations are mobile. So yeah, click fraud exists and there is nothing that can be done about it because you can’t ignore advertising on cell phones and there is no real way for them to combat it the way the system is designed. 

So now the question falls on are the SaaS businesses that combat this worth it. In a word, yes. They can allow you to put cookies on devices including cell phones that stop someone from seeing ads after a certain number. You can block IPs and IP ranges. Pretty much be creative. They all have their own features and costs. What one would work best for you requires research but yes, they work and are worth the money you spend. Heck, if nothing else, do like I tell all my customers/clients test it and see.