Affiliate Fraud: The best 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 find out how to spot it? Picture by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Internet affiliate marketing is a low-risk, high-reward channel that has seen its recognition skyrocket lately. Nevertheless, low threat isn’t the identical as no threat. 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 online marketing grew into what it’s at this time, so did unhealthy 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.

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

What Affiliate Fraud Seems Like 


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

When It’s OK  

Numerous publishers nonetheless make the most of pop-unders as part of their promoting efforts, and that in itself is comparatively benign. Nevertheless, this follow is taken into account old skool and sometimes doesn’t add worth to the person expertise. How typically have you ever seen a pop-under and mentioned, “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 could not need this expertise to be included as a part of their program, whereas others won’t thoughts, so it’s finest the events concerned talk about this follow upfront.   

When It’s Dangerous 

Pop-unders might be set as much as help in cookie stuffing with out the person figuring out. It’s unhealthy follow 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 fireplace. 

A standard follow for very giant retailers or campaigns is to drive an affiliate click on on a pop-under the place there isn’t any speedy relevance for the buyer within the hope that they’ll buy (suppose Expedia) or join (H&R Block). A pink flag for the sort of tactic can 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 vital values like your associates’ data (identify, ID quantity, and so on.), and so they observe the touchpoints in a client journey.

Cookie stuffing occurs when a 3rd occasion, corresponding to 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 might be able to inform if one of many companions in your program is doing this if their actions spike however they’ve only a few clicks, habits that TUNE’s Time-to-Motion Report may also help you establish. 

TM+ Bidding 

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

When It’s OK  

Trademark plus campaigns, when run by way of the affiliate channel with trusted companions, may also help bolster efficiency and assist advertisers by pushing opponents decrease in search outcomes. Additionally they supply a way to get supplemental media in alternate for TM+ rights, which could be a win/win relying on the targets of a specific partnership.  

When It’s Dangerous 

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

URL Redirection 

This occurs once you navigate to a particular URL and as a substitute of ending up there, you might be rerouted to a unique vacation spot URL. 

When It’s OK 

There are just a few respected auto-redirecting publishers who scrape the online for misspelled area entries and redirect them to advertisers’ websites. Some notable firms that do that are Resilion, NameSpace, and ProtectedBrand. 

When It’s Dangerous 

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

Bots/Net Crawling 

A search engine algorithm that organizes data. 

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 habits. Some bots are helpful, corresponding to 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 all expertise, bots might be constructed with unhealthy intent. As a result of it’s automated expertise, bots can help with most of the malevolent practices talked about on this publish. They are often programmed to interrupt into person accounts, scan the online for contact data for sending spam, set as much as carry out click on fraud, or stuff cookies.

You probably 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 companion’s website.  

Web site Cloning 

This follow is strictly what it appears like: duplicating data and visuals from one website to create a duplicate of it elsewhere. 

When It’s OK 

By no means. 

When It’s Dangerous 

I’ve seen this occur to manufacturers when a 3rd occasion purchases comparable 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 best way Google ranks content material by sending pretend natural site visitors to themselves. That is why it’s so vital to truly take a look at potential companion 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 information and/or consent.

When It’s OK 

By no means. 

When It’s Dangerous 

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

We suggest 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 main 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 supply fraud safety inbuilt, however most cost a further price for his or her resolution or a third-party integration. TUNE supplies 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 resolution. 

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

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

“After we take 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. Which means you might be then both paying that affiliate for one thing that it is best to have gotten at no cost, or are paying the flawed affiliate. In terms of scaling your associates program, this will trigger you to truly scale into the unhealthy actor, because it seems they’re driving essentially the most progress.” 
—Kalen Bushe, TrafficGuard

Holding Affiliate Fraud Out of Your Program 

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

Go to our weblog publish on TUNE’s Proactive Fraud Prevention to be taught 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 ideas from business specialists on what they acquired 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 companion advertising and marketing company, overseeing a various portfolio of purchasers. Her profession has centered on rising affiliate partnerships, using information to make strategic selections for client manufacturers, and driving incremental progress.


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