Bob Hoffman
Dec 7, 2020

Ad fraud: The other pandemic

THE AD CONTRARIAN: Despite predictions that we're turning the corner on ad fraud, the problem keeps getting worse, to the point where even experts who have studied fraud across industries for decades are stunned by the scale of waste.

(Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

Online ad fraud is apparently out of control.

A white paper released this week by AdAge and co-sponsored by anti-fraud company Spider Labs, estimates that ad fraud is stealing 20% (which comes to $66 billion) in global online ad spending.

The report states, "the digital domain overall has seen a marked increase in fraud since the coronavirus first emerged....Along with the rise in scams like ransom-ware, trojan viruses and malware, ad fraud has also spiked dramatically."

In another recent report, professor Roberto Cavazos, economist at the University of Baltimore, said "the level of ad fraud is now staggering. The digital advertising sector has ... higher fraud rates than multi-trillion-dollar sectors..."

Cavazos' comments came in a report issued by cybersecurity firm Cheq which Cavazos participated in. The report estimates that ad fraud will create direct worldwide marketing losses of $35 billion in 2020. This is about a 50% increase over their estimate of $23 billion in direct losses in 2019.

Cavazos has spent over 30 years studying fraud across many business sectors. Last year he said, "I have studied the economic costs of fraud in many sectors for decades, and I was left stunned by the scale of fraud in online advertising."

But, please, don't tell that to our illustrious industry "leaders." The crackpots at the ANA last year foreshadowed the "we've turned the corner" cluelessness the White House displayed on the Covid-19 pandemic with this gem: 'Report From ANA And White Ops Shows War On Ad Fraud Is Succeeding'. If you need a good laugh, read it.

Some highlights from the Cheq study:

  • Online ad fraud has overtaken credit card fraud despite the fact that the credit card business is 10 times the size of online advertising.
  • While the direct cost of fraud will be about $35 billion, the total cost (direct plus indirect) could reach $40 billion.
  • The report says, "Online advertising is uniquely susceptible to frauds..."
  • Between 10% and 30% of the $1.3 billion digital ad spending in the US presidential election was lost to ad fraud.

According to the CEO of Cheq, "...fraudsters have ready access to the most advanced tools ever available to commit fraud at scale."

But don't worry! You're not getting screwed. It's all the other guys who are stupid! You are smart! You have processes... you have fraud protection...you're smarter than the fraudsters! How can I be so sure? Your CMO told me.


Bob Hoffman is the author of several best-selling books about advertising, a popular international speaker on advertising and marketing, and the creator of 'The Ad Contrarian' newsletter, where this first appeared, and blog. Earlier in his career he was CEO of two independent agencies and the US operation of an international agency.

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