How Do Human Fraud Farms Work? How Can I Stop Click Fraud?


Billions of dollars are lost every year to digital ad fraud. Slightly more than 30 percent of website traffic is made up of bad bots. Based on just these facts, it’s easy to assume that much ad fraud can be attributed to bad bots.

This assumption isn’t necessarily wrong, but sophisticated bot detection can stop these bad bots before they create fraudulent clicks. That frustrates fraudsters but also means they’ll continue to scheme and look for other ways to develop alternate revenue streams. And one of the ways they do that is by employing click farms.

A click farm is a fraud organization that leverages large groups of cheap workers to manually click on paid ads online. Like their bot counterparts, human click farms wreak havoc on the digital advertising ecosystem. Click farms have people clicking on ads with no intention of converting. They just visit sites and rack up worthless impressions.

How do human click farms differ from bots? How do click farms hurt advertisers and publishers? How do you know if you’re a victim? And most importantly, how can fraudulent activity from click farms be stopped?

How Do Human Click Farms Differ from Bots?

Two types of human click farms can negatively affect advertisers and publishers.

First, there is the one-man-band approach: one person uses hundreds of devices to repetitively click on videos and digital ads or “like” social media posts.

Then there are human click farms: hundreds or thousands of humans who get paid very little to do a lot of clicking. Most human click farms get established in developing countries where labor is extremely cheap and labor laws are lax or lacking, making the fraudulent activity profitable for click farm operators.

Because humans, not bots, are fraudulently clicking on ads, the fraud is hard to detect and stop, meaning it can occur more frequently and for longer periods of time. That makes human click farms profitable for the operators and costly for advertisers who pay for clicks that will never convert or generate revenue.

Human click farms will likely always pose a threat, but as with many jobs done by humans, traffic generated using artificial intelligence in the form of smart bots can also be mistaken as valid and contribute to ad fraud.

How Do Click Farms Harm Advertisers and Publishers?

Click farms can be used to inadvertently harm advertisers by focusing solely on generating revenue for fraudulent clicks. In this case, no single advertiser is targeted; the click farm operators just want to get paid for clicking on ads on certain domains, regardless of the brand. However, advertisers still pay for those worthless clicks, reducing campaign performance and marketing ROI.

Click farms can also be hired by competitors to exhaust your ad budget. Once your ad has generated as many clicks as you have budgeted for, they’ll stop being displayed, leaving room for the competition’s ads to run without having to outbid on keywords.

Regardless of intent, the result is the same: an advertising campaign that doesn’t deliver but does waste precious time and ad dollars.

Advertisers aren’t the only victims of click farms; publishers are also at risk. While unscrupulous publishers may employ click farms to generate revenue, legitimate publishers can pay a high price if the ad clicks their advertisers are paying for are generated by a click farm.

Publishers may not realize they have an ad fraud problem until the data they provide to their advertisers doesn’t align with the campaign results—or lack thereof. However, once discovered, click farms need to be stopped at once. If not, advertisers will lose trust in the publisher, the publisher’s reputation as a reliable host will suffer, and they may see a significant drop in the ad revenue on which they so heavily depend.

How Will I Know If I’m a Victim of Click Farms?

If you recognize the signs of click fraud, there’s a good chance your campaign or your domain has become a click farm victim. Watch out for:

  • Lots of traffic but no conversions, especially if the traffic is generated in a short time
  • Unusual site visitor behavior
  • Advertisers questioning data or requesting refunds

Victims of click fraud may look for ways to retaliate against the fraudsters. After all, they’ve lost time, money, and perhaps even their brand reputation. The challenge is that there are no laws against click farms themselves. While the activity steals billions of dollars each year, few have been convicted of any kind of ad fraud, and there is no pending legislation to help protect advertisers or publishers.

How Do I Know If I Am at Risk?

Anyone buying or selling digital advertising can be at risk of ad fraud as a result of human click farms or other tactics. Advertisers are projected to spend more than $440 billion on digital ads in 2024. That’s just too much opportunity for fraudsters to ignore; in fact, Juniper Research projects that advertisers will lose nearly one-fourth of their advertising spend, or $100 billion, to ad fraud this year.

While all advertisers are susceptible to ad fraud, the more competitive your industry is, the more competitive—and costlier—your keywords and cost-per-click are. Higher CPC rates mean bigger budgets and more profit for fraudsters.

According to recent Google Ads benchmarks, attorneys and legal services, dentists and dental services, and home and home improvement industries paid the highest costs per click. That could put these categories at even greater risk of click fraud.

How Do I Stop Click Farms and Other Forms of Click Fraud?

The best way to stop ad fraud is to partner with a proven, reliable digital ad fraud detection platform like Anura’s Search and Social ProtectTM solution. Anura scans thousands of data points to focus on website visitors in real time, ensuring they are real humans who can become real customers, improving your marketing campaign performance and your ROI.

Schedule a free trial and discover for yourself why Fast Company recently named Anura “one of the next big tech innovations in marketing and advertising.”

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