Affiliate Fraud: The way to Determine It in Your Program

Affiliate fraud may be lurking in your program. Do you know how to spot it?
Affiliate fraud could also be lurking in your program. Have you learnt tips on how to spot it? Picture by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Internet online affiliate marketing is a low-risk, high-reward channel that has seen its recognition skyrocket in recent times. Nonetheless, low danger isn’t the identical as no danger. In 2020, CHEQ estimates that affiliate fraud price advertisers $1.4 billion. With greater than 80% of advertisers and publishers together with affiliate partnerships of their advertising and marketing technique, fraud is an unlucky and unavoidable truth of life. 

As internet online affiliate marketing grew into what it’s as we speak, so did dangerous actors and their quite a few applied sciences to “sport the system.” A few of these practices fall into a grey class the place they aren’t essentially unlawful, whereas others are a blatant breach of contract.

Under, we’ve outlined the practices that account for why this channel has traditionally gained a nasty status within the advertising and marketing trade. Listed below are the highest methods we see publishers break the principles, how they do it, and how one can determine affiliate fraud prefer it in your individual program. 

What Affiliate Fraud Appears Like 


The other of a pop-up, a pop-under is an advert that pops open behind (or “below”) a browser window. 

When It’s OK  

A variety of publishers nonetheless make the most of pop-unders as part of their promoting efforts, and that in itself is comparatively benign. Nonetheless, this observe is taken into account old style and sometimes doesn’t add worth to the person expertise. How typically have you ever seen a pop-under and stated, “Oh nice, I can’t wait to click on on this!” As a substitute, it’s extra like, “The place the hell did this come from?”

Some advertisers might not need this expertise to be included as a part of their program, whereas others may not thoughts, so it’s greatest the events concerned talk about this observe upfront.   

When It’s Dangerous 

Pop-unders could be set as much as help in cookie stuffing with out the person understanding. It’s dangerous observe if the pop-under is for one thing fully irrelevant to what the person is looking for, or if the person didn’t take an motion (click on) to trigger the advert to fireside. 

A typical observe for very massive retailers or campaigns is to drive an affiliate click on on a pop-under the place there isn’t any quick relevance for the patron within the hope that they’ll buy (suppose Expedia) or enroll (H&R Block). A pink flag for any such tactic could be an excessive spike in clicks from a masked referring URL with low conversion charges. 

Cookie Stuffing/Cookie Dropping  

Also called attribution theft, cookie stuffing is at all times fraudulent. 

When It’s OK 

By no means. 

When It’s Dangerous 

Cookies are little information bites that seize the parameters all of us use in our monitoring hyperlinks. These information bites embrace necessary values like your associates’ info (identify, ID quantity, and so on.), and so they observe the touchpoints in a shopper journey.

Cookie stuffing occurs when a 3rd occasion, resembling a writer or CPA community, drops a number of cookies on a person’s browser earlier than they take an motion so the third occasion can get steady credit score for a sale. You could possibly inform if one of many companions in your program is doing this if their actions spike however they’ve only a few clicks, conduct that TUNE’s Time-to-Motion Report might help you determine. 

TM+ Bidding 

TM+ stands for “trademark plus,” or when a 3rd occasion bids in your branded identify(s) plus extra key phrases. 

When It’s OK  

Trademark plus campaigns, when run by way of the affiliate channel with trusted companions, might help bolster efficiency and help advertisers by pushing rivals decrease in search outcomes. In addition they provide a way to get supplemental media in trade for TM+ rights, which generally is a win/win relying on the objectives of a selected partnership.  

When It’s Dangerous 

Trademark bidding is a part of paid search advertising and marketing, which suggests most manufacturers may have a crew that focuses on this and pays search engines like google and yahoo to put their adverts on the high of related pages. When unauthorized events bid on trademarked phrases, it not solely drives up prices on your paid search crew, however it could possibly additionally end in fully inaccurate info, stolen gross sales, and poor person experiences.  

URL Redirection 

This occurs whenever you navigate to a particular URL and as an alternative of ending up there, you’re rerouted to a unique vacation spot URL. 

When It’s OK 

There are a number of respected auto-redirecting publishers who scrape the net for misspelled area entries and redirect them to advertisers’ websites. Some notable corporations that do that are Resilion, NameSpace, and ProtectedBrand. 

When It’s Dangerous 

URL redirection is dangerous whether it is arrange with the intent to disguise itself and take customers away from their supposed vacation spot. This may be achieved in tandem with web site cloning, and it’s one other type of theft in internet online affiliate marketing. Auto-redirecting works through the use of a protocol that continues to be hidden and allows click on fraud.  

Bots/Net Crawling 

A search engine algorithm that organizes info. 

When It’s OK 

Enjoyable truth: About 42% of web site visitors consists of bots scanning content material, interacting with webpages, chatting with customers, or on the lookout for suspicious conduct. Some bots are helpful, resembling search engine bots that index content material for search outcomes or customer support bots that assist customers. An internet crawler bot is like somebody who goes by way of all of the books in a disorganized library and places collectively a card catalog, in order that anybody who visits the library can shortly and simply discover the data they want. 

When It’s Dangerous 

Like every expertise, bots could be constructed with dangerous intent. As a result of it’s automated expertise, bots can help with most of the malevolent practices talked about on this put up. They are often programmed to interrupt into person accounts, scan the net for contact info for sending spam, set as much as carry out click on fraud, or stuff cookies.

If in case you have entry to a software like TUNE’s Time-to-Motion Report and see an unprecedented variety of clicks come by way of in a brief time period, that might point out a bot is performing click on fraud on a associate’s web site.  

Web site Cloning 

This observe is precisely what it appears like: duplicating info and visuals from one web site to create a duplicate of it some other place. 

When It’s OK 

By no means. 

When It’s Dangerous 

I’ve seen this occur to manufacturers when a 3rd occasion purchases related domains and replicates the web site imagery and content material to dupe guests and get the affiliate payout on these gross sales. The plagiarized websites abuse the way in which Google ranks content material by sending pretend natural site visitors to themselves. For this reason it’s so necessary to truly have a look at potential associate web sites and do the analysis earlier than accepting simply anybody into your associates program. 

Toolbar Auto-Redirection 

When a toolbar, plugin, or different browser extension takes an motion with out the person’s data and/or consent.

When It’s OK 

By no means. 

When It’s Dangerous 

Some browser toolbars, plugins, and extensions routinely drop an affiliate click on when a person (who has it put in) visits an advertiser’s web site to be able to generate an motion that can give the person money again. Many occasions, the patron doesn’t know they’ve the toolbar put in and by no means get the money again. See the put up we wrote about Chrome extensions caught cookie stuffing for an instance of this observe in motion. 

We advocate requiring that any toolbar or browser plugin adheres to an “affirmative click on” coverage, the place the person has to choose in to obtain money again (and subsequently enable the affiliate to obtain fee). The most important toolbars that do that are Store At Residence, BeFrugal, and WeCare. 

Instruments to Detect Affiliate Fraud 

As affiliate fraud has expanded, so have instruments to assist manufacturers and program managers struggle again. Some platforms provide fraud safety inbuilt, however most cost a further price for his or her answer or a third-party integration. TUNE gives each, permitting you the liberty to make use of our built-in proactive fraud prevention suite that’s powered by Fraudlogix, or combine your most popular third-party answer. 

“TUNE’s prospects rely upon the platform to assist them struggle fraud and the information we’re offering allows them to dam fraudulent actions earlier than they have an effect on campaigns,” Fraudlogix CEO Hagai Shechter stated in our put up saying the characteristic. “This protects TUNE’s prospects time and has actual implications on ROI.” 

One other TUNE expertise associate, TrafficGuard, sees that on common throughout affiliate packages, between 10-15% of fee payouts go to fraudulent affiliate companions. Right here’s how they clarify it: 

“Once we have a look at advert fraud within the affiliate channel what we’re actually taking a look at is misattribution. Techniques like cookie stuffing are designed to misattribute a conversion away from its actual origin to a fraudulent affiliate. Meaning you’re then both paying that affiliate for one thing that it is best to have gotten without spending a dime, or are paying the flawed affiliate. Relating to scaling your associates program, this will trigger you to truly scale into the dangerous actor, because it seems they’re driving essentially the most progress.” 
—Kalen Bushe, TrafficGuard

Conserving Affiliate Fraud Out of Your Program 

Today, affiliate fraud is only a actuality manufacturers should face. With the correct platform and instruments, nevertheless, it turns into a manageable a part of any program.  

Go to our weblog put up on TUNE’s Proactive Fraud Prevention to study extra. 

10 mistakes to avoid when starting an affiliate program

Obtain our 10 Errors to Keep away from When Beginning an Affiliate Program e-book to get suggestions from trade consultants on what they bought flawed — like ignoring the warning indicators of affiliate fraud — and how one can get it proper in your program.   


Lyndsey Fish

Lyndsey Fish is the Director of Partnerships at TUNE. Earlier than becoming a member of TUNE, Lyndsey labored for a number one associate advertising and marketing company, overseeing a various portfolio of shoppers. Her profession has targeted on rising affiliate partnerships, using information to make strategic choices for shopper manufacturers, and driving incremental progress.

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