Mega-Conference presenters offer tips for combating ad tech fraud


Two presenters at the Key Executives Mega-Conference shared a case study showing how easy it can be for a code developer to skim display ad dollars from a newspaper's website, as well as tips for preventing this type of fraud.

Casey Hester, senor vice president/operations with Journal Communications in Nashville, Tenn., and Maggie Louie, co-founder of Dev/Con Detect, talked about Journal Communications' site and how the company experienced huge losses when a code developer skimmed significant sums of money into accounts he had placed on the site.

Hester told attendees at the conference that top level managers at newspapers need to be on the front line asking questions and doing due diligence to protect their papers from ad tech fraud.

The eight-year-old site had seen good growth over the years and now has about a million unique visitors monthly, 3.5 million pageviews, and 30 to 50 impressions a month.

Yet – about the time that they brought Louie on as a consultant – they had started noticing some declines in revenue that couldn't be explained.

Once Louie started digging into the site's analytics, she began identifying some problems with code on the site, Hester said.  And, an internal code developer who previously had been viewed as a model employee was terminated when the problems were pinpointed.

While Louie had initially been brought in to assist with a digital revenue optimization project, her focus soon turned to a significant fraud mitigation project.  Steep declines and volatility across network revenue was discovered.  And, questions about missing impressions and reporting issues raised red flags.

As a result of the investigation, they identified bad tags in the code, removed them and made organizational changes to reduce silos.

The advertising display landscape, Hester warned, is complex and can be vulnerable and easily exploited.  She cited figures showing that losses in the industry since 2015 are projected at about $13.4 billion.  Seventy percent of financially motivated fraud by insiders is a team effort and is very difficult to detect, she showed.

What do revenue irregularities look like?

Hester said:

  • Publishers typically have multiple digital reports to try and compensate for inconsistent reports.
  • Comparing these reports to one another can help identify "impression leakage."
  • Once you are able to break out a line item of impressions that have been filled, but can't be matched to any networks, sponsorships or existing line items, you can calculate the potential revenue losses.

She offered these tips to publishers to fight digital ad fraud:

  • Ask questions and make sure the team is focused on goals.
  • Create and maintain consistent security protocals.
  • Background check everyone.
  • Regular tag, plugin, ad server, network and JavaScript audits.
  • Annotate changes in revenue, impressions and any anomalies in reconciliation (impressions to revenue irregularities).
  • Always de-credential contractors, former employees, etc. once work is completed.
  • Implement a system for auditing site and campaign changes.


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