October 30, 2019

Deceptive Publisher Rings In Operation Right Now: A PSA on How to Keep Your Brand Secure

Adam Dahlen

As PartnerCentric’s VP of Client Success, my role is to lead and manage our world-class account management team and ensure that we are always taking a strategic and consultative approach to achieve our clients’ goals while keeping their programs secure.

Recently, through proactive monitoring by the client’s account management team as well as our in-house compliance department, the team at PartnerCentric encountered a particularly brazen case of misrepresented traffic in the form of a publisher ring that infiltrated the affiliate program of a well known brand. I want to share this with you since it’s important to know what to look out for in real time, and have the best resources in your corner when fraud happens. Because it does happen…in a lot of different industries. But it’s all about having a plan in place and getting ahead of the problem by taking a proactive approach. 

Beginning in the summer of 2019, the PartnerCentric account team managing this program received several applications from prospective affiliates purporting to be major content publishing sites. The applications would come in about once a week, over the course of two months. In each case, the publisher would follow up on the application by emailing the account team from a domain very similar to the actual domain (ex. johndoe@contentsiteinc.com versus johndoe@contentsite.com) asking to promote the brand via email newsletter. The account team followed normal due diligence procedures but the publisher took the following steps to hide their identity: 

  • The publisher purchased the imposter domain (ex. contentsiteinc.com) and implemented a redirect to the actual domain (ex. contentsite.com)
  • Publicly available LinkedIn information of real employees was used to populate their publisher profile and email information
  • In one instance, the affiliate got on the phone with the PartnerCentric account team and pretended to be a real employee from the well known site they were impersonating
  • When asked for copies the email newsletters, the affiliate provided quality screenshots of email newsletters that showed our client’s brand featured, and perfectly matched the look and feel of the real publisher newsletter

Despite the best efforts of the publisher to cover their tracks, the PartnerCentric team noticed the click and conversion rate numbers did not align with the expected results of similar publishers during their routine checks and continued to investigate. Upon discovering the deception, our team worked with the client’s platform to ensure the client would incur no financial liability. The platform and PartnerCentric then continued to collaborate to enhance the platform’s vetting procedures, and our team implemented additional vetting and due diligence criteria to ensure this type of issue is never repeated. 

To provide the most value to you, we want to give you some tips for what to do if you suspect ad fraud within your program. In the next week, we will be sharing a reference that you can download with information about the types of ad fraud that exist, what you need to look out for and actionable steps you should take.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact us.

We are always here to help.