Mobile app ad fraud rakes up cost of almost $1bn in 2015

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Fraudsters have finally moved on to mobile apps, scamming advertisers into thinking their ads have been viewed and eating into data connections of mobile users. Almost 15% of apps are affected, loading invisible ads to increase views, according to Forensiq’s latest Mobile App Fraud Study

Forensiq’s latest Mobile App Fraud Study


The study flagged mobile device hijacking as a problem on over 12 million devices and 13% of global in-app pre-bid advertising inventory. Scammers use mobile apps, e.g. games, which can run multiple ads per minute and prompt random clicks, simulating human behaviour. Fraudsters then collect payments from marketers for their activity. Based on these findings, Forensiq forecasts in-app fraud to surpass the $1bn mark this year for operating systems Android, iOS and Windows Mobile.

Mobile in-app ad fraud global annual loss estimate

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The company identified 5,000 apps that were running in the background, some of which were intended to hijack the phone. Mike Andrews, Chief Scientist, Forensiq, says:


“We wanted to show the public how blatant and obvious and hurtful all this fraud is – not just to advertisers who pay for ads that no one sees but also people using these apps on these tiny devices that are bandwidth-limited and power-limited.”

However, with up to 700 invisible ads able to load on a single affected device within an hour, tracking fraudulent ads isn’t easy. Andrews adds:

“From a scientific standpoint, it’s really kind of an impossible problem. At the end of the day, app developers can always obfuscate what exactly they are going to do when they are released into the wild.”

Based on the study’s findings, Android devices represent a higher fraud risk (14.8%) than iOS (11.7%) or Windows (8.8%) with iOS flagging the least amount of apps.

Android apps are of greater risk of fraud

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David Sendroff, Founder and CEO of Forensiq believes that large companies such as Google and Apple are keen to eliminate ad fraud as it is in their best interest to keep advertisers happy and not loose cash on fraud, however it’s often hard to pin the blame on a single entity. He adds:


“With mobile ad spending expected to overtake desktop spending in 2016, tracking fraudulent behavior and raising awareness to new threats such as mobile device hijacking is essential to building a more sustainable and overall safe advertising ecosystem.”

However, there are ways mobile device users can protect themselves. Measures include reading app reviews as well as checking permissions for downloaded apps and disabling internet access within an app’s settings.