Online fraud is a reality. The only way to fully avoid it is to not be doing any business online. To be effective, you must learn how to prevent, detect and fight fraud.

This entails understanding the types of fraud that exist and developing strategies to use in your fight. Today, a look at fraud in affiliate marketing.

The Search Engine Journal referred recently to an infographic on affiliate fraud published by AceAffiliates.

Affiliate Fraud

AceAffiliates suggest there are six types of "affiliate fraud":

  1. Duplicating -- creation of deceptive clones of legitimate sites
  2. Spamming -- sending mass emails under the guise of a legitimate brand
  3. Squatting -- creating sites under common misspellings of legitimate domains
  4. Diverting -- creating deceptive links that do not pay the intended affiliate ("cookie stuffing" is one of the ways it's done, and thankfully it already results in serious consequences for cookie stuffers)
  5. Faking -- inflating a CPC program's number of clicks
  6. Stealing -- making purchases with stolen credit cards to earn bogus commissions

I'd also add trademark poaching to the list. As for point five, faking, I'd rather see fraudulent leads (which can be basically classified as "stealing") mentioned, not fake clicks. In reality, there are very few affiliates programs out there paying for clicks these days.

As solutions, the infographic creators suggest joining forums which share the information on fraudsters; maintaining blacklists of fraudulent affiliates; closely checking affiliate sites; communicating with affiliates on their tactics; tracking IPs to identify fraudulent locations; and instituting automatic approvals of affiliate applications.

All good suggestions, but unfortunately they only scratch the surface of the work every affiliate program manager should be doing to prevent affiliate fraud.

I believe there are at least nine things merchants and program managers should do to prevent affiliate fraud:

  1. The affiliate program agreement should clearly spell out what constitutes a valid/commissionable affiliate action (sale, lead, subscription, etc.)
  2. Always conduct a research on a new affiliate (or a marketing method they use) before approving them into the program. (Do they have an active website? What traffic-generating methods are they planning on employing? Are their methods complimentary or clearly contradictory/detrimental to what you yourself are doing?)
  3. Watch out for sudden traffic surges
  4. Same goes for quick increases in affiliate-referred transactions (again, sales, leads, etc.)
  5. Keep an eye on fraudulent transactions (stolen credit card numbers, fake leads, cancellations of self-referred transactions when commission has already locked, etc) -- two such transactions from the same affiliate should raise a red flag, any three should result in a ban from the program.
  6. Analyze referral URLs to catch any cyber- or typo-squatters.
  7. Monitor your brand online to see what customers are saying about it and to catch any spamming affiliates.
  8. Educate yourself on parasitic and cookie stuffing affiliates (to keep them out of your program). When in doubt, ask in affiliate forums or consult with people like Kellie Stevens of
  9. Police and enforce any other restrictions you may have in your program's agreement (e.g. trademark PPC bidding, use of).

Have I missed anything else? Whether you're reading this as an affiliate, merchant, network rep, or a vendor of any affiliate marketing related services, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this important subject.

Geno Prussakov

Published 30 August, 2010 by Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov is the Founder & Chair of Affiliate Management Days conference, Founder & CEO at AM Navigator, author, internationally known speaker, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can find Geno on Google+

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Comments (10)

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This is absolutely true. It is a responsibility of every player in Affiliate program to make sure the fraudulent traffic are not encouraged, particularly where per click or lead commission are provided. In addition Affiliate Manager or team should be in constant touch with affiliates on how they are (at present) bringing the traffic and what are their future plans to increase them.

almost 8 years ago

Kevin Edwards

Kevin Edwards, Strategy Director at Affiliate Window

I think we need to make a distinction between fraud and unethical activity. Fraud is by definition a criminal offence and as such we need to ensure we're accurately labelling the activity mentioned above. This may sound pedantic but to claim so much 'fraudulent' (and therefore illegal) activity in the affiliate channel has the potential for alarmist headlines. For the record, the UK has a particularly strong precedence in dealing with unethical activity within the channel using auomated brand protection and anti-spyware tools that haved proved effective in countering this unhelpful element of the channel.

almost 8 years ago


buyer beware

Over the Bank Holiday I went online to buy a moses basket and sleepsuit. A Google search took me to a so called community forum where apprently the public contributes honest tips. There was a voucher offering 15% off all baby goods from an online store. The tip was posted by a 'moderator' posting what was said displayed as 8 deals a day but looking at the actual deals listed it was more like 60 a day with 7,000 plus current deals.

As well as a forum to escape the marketing message the forum had a mommy blog where real mums post honest tips about saving money. The voucher was recommended here too. 

I clicked through and from the forum and blog tracking from Affilite Future loaded onto my PC which I was not expecting. The voucher did not work on any items. I telephoned the 0844 telephone number but was put on hold with a recorded message saying all operators busy. I rang off after a while because it was costing me.

A Google shopping search on the items I wanted to buy revealed much, much better prices with free delivery. The retailer with the voucher that did not work had high postage charges which the honest tip on saving money on the forum and mummy blog had not mentioned.

Affiliate marketing in my experience generates really misleading information on pricing. Hopefully the OFT is about to put this arms race of bad practice out of business.

almost 8 years ago


David Naffziger

While the AceAffiliates list is helpful, I just don't think about affiliate abuse in those ways, and I agree with your tweaks. I think there is also a range of issues around unauthorized traffic sources - incentivised traffic comes to mind as something that is both important and overlooked.

almost 8 years ago

Ling Khang Lee

Ling Khang Lee, eCommerce Development Analyst at Bankwest

There are some good points in here. The most important one to take away is the onus of the organisation to monitor the online space to ensure brand integrity and to hear what people are saying about your products and/or services. Look after your products and services online and it could alleviate fraudulent activity.

almost 8 years ago

Peter Bordes

Peter Bordes, Executive Chairman & Founder at oneQube

I agree with Kevin One thing affiliate marketing is missing is to first create very clear definitions of fraud and bad behavior. most outsiders still have trouble under standing the affiliate channel and what the difference is between a publisher, affiliate and affiliate marketer.. the fraud issue is a significant battle that will be won IF the industry stops being a black box and IF networks start creating ways to share information around a centralized database that helps proactively prevent fraud.. one reason the fraudsters found and love aff marketing is for that very reason. networks are black boxes and its easy to jump from one to the other as well as buy accounts ... our GLOBAL industry needs to create a centralized, trusted hub of data ASAP... and then we all win and help fight fraud and create a better trusted channel for merchants and advertising partners.

almost 8 years ago


Pace Lattin

Geno, never read this article by you before. Wonderful information and I applaud for you taking a stance. This is something that I sometimes feel I am fighting alone!

about 7 years ago


Geno Prussakov

Thank you, Pace. You're definitely not alone. BTW, my newest article in the FeedFront will be devoted to this very topic too.

about 7 years ago


Sven Hezel, MD at 24metrics

Yes its a big problem and unfortunately very time consuming too. From a legal perspective you would need proof of fraud and this often not easy as companies lack the data to prove. Its not enough to say that traffic did not convert good / users were not active enough in court.

So we developed a system that checks for abused IPs, proxies, abnormally high conversion rates, cookie dropping, suspicious order value and more.

Its based on BigData which means that we literally can filter any type abnormal patterns and stop commissions before they get send out the affiliate.

Contact us for a free trial -

about 3 years ago


andrew schultz, ceo at self employed

I used to use 24 metrics @sven hezel but you guys charged way too much and actually didn't do a great job at blocking fraud. Don't get me wrong you guys did do a lot of good but at that price point I wanted near perfection. I switched to IPQS - and It did just as good if not better at cutting down fraud while being super cheap.

6 months ago

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