Affiliate Fraud in 2024: An Insider‘s Guide to the Latest Scam Tactics and How to Successfully Protect Your Business

If you run an affiliate marketing program, you need to be aware of the many affiliate fraud techniques that threaten revenues and brand reputation in 2024.

In this extensive guide, we will uncover the most pervasive new and evolving affiliate fraud tactics being used to steal commissions. You‘ll also learn insider best practices to get ahead of scammers and effectively detect and prevent affiliate fraud.

What is Affiliate Fraud and Why Does it Matter?

Affiliate fraud refers to any deceitful tactics affiliates use to illegitimately generate commissions from an affiliate program.

With over 15% of ecommerce sales now coming from affiliate links, affiliate marketing has never been more important for driving business growth. However, fraud poses a major dark side that lets bad actors game the system for easy profits.

The biggest risk with affiliate fraud is lost revenue, as businesses pay out commissions on fake actions. A 2022 study by Paysafe found that affiliate fraud will cost global businesses $7.9 billion per year by 2025.

Beyond direct financial impact, affiliate fraud also harms brand reputation, decreases marketing ROI, and sabotages customer trust and loyalty.

In this guide, we‘ll uncover the most common new and established affiliate fraud tricks you need to safeguard against.

The 6 Core Affiliate Fraud Techniques to Watch Out For

While fraudsters continuously iterate new scams, these 6 tactics represent the most widespread affiliate fraud threats in 2024.

1. Click Fraud

Click fraud is the granddaddy of affiliate scams, representing over 60% of affiliate fraud.

Here‘s how click fraud works:

  • Fraudsters set up bot networks or hire low-cost labor to repeatedly click on an affiliate link.
  • These automated or manual clicks generate a commission each time based on the pay-per-click affiliate model.
  • Large volumes of fake clicks quickly add up to big fraudulent profits.

According to recent data, businesses lose $1.3 million per day to click fraud.

Tell-tale signs of potential click fraud include:

  • Spikes in click volume without corresponding sales increases
  • Clicks originating from mismatched geographies or suspicious IP ranges
  • Repeated clicks from the same IP addresses in short time spans

Click fraud operations go to great lengths to cover their tracks using IP spoofing, bot nets spanning thousands of IPs, and residential proxies to disguise their activity.

Click Fraud Red FlagsIndications
Click spikes without conversion upticksSuggests bot traffic simply clicking without engaging further
Mismatched geographyClicks from unexpected or illogical locations
Repeated clicks by IPMore than 2-3 clicks per IP in a short time strongly indicates bots/fraud

To combat click fraud, diligently analyze traffic patterns and deploy purpose-built detection solutions. We‘ll cover more click fraud prevention tips later in this guide.

2. Cookie Stuffing

Cookie stuffing allows scammers to claim credit for driving users that they had nothing to do with referring in reality.

Here are the dubious mechanics of this cookie infiltration technique:

  1. A user browses Website A.
  2. Website A covertly stuffs a cookie linked to Website B‘s affiliate ID onto the user‘s device without consent.
  3. Later, the user visits Website B for completely unrelated reasons.
  4. Website B sees the cookie, assumes the user arrived via Website A, and pays out an affiliate commission to Website A.

This cookie drop allows the affiliate behind Website A to collect a commission for traffic they never sent.

Studies show cookie stuffing nets fraudsters over $1 billion per year by manipulating affiliate attribution.

Tell-tale signs of cookie stuffing include:

  • Affiliate referrals from unrelated low-quality websites
  • Repeated affiliate cookie drops from the same referring domains
  • Conversion lag time of over 1 hour between cookie set and action

Cookie stuffing decreased with the introduction of last-click attribution, but still remains an issue. Advanced attribution modeling, cookie analysis, whitelists, and fraud detection can all help identify cookie stuffing red flags.

3. Typosquatting

Typosquatting is the act of registering misspelled or typo versions of popular domains to profit from users‘ mistakes.

For example, a typosquatter may purchase:

  • amazon.coom

When users incorrectly type the URL, they may land on the typo domain loaded with affiliate links to the real site. If they click an affiliate link, the typosquatter earns a commission.

This tactic generated over $1.7 billion in affiliate commissions in 2021 alone according to recent estimates.

Typosquatting and cybersquatting in general continue evolving. For example, scammers now target brand names and trademarks across multiple TLDs like .store, .shop, and .app.

Proactively register any major typo variations of your domains. Also use domain monitoring tools to identify typosquatting sites misusing your trademarks and issue takedown notices.

4. Loyalty Fraud

Loyalty fraud refers to obtaining points, rewards, or other benefits through manufactured activity instead of legitimate customer engagement.

For example, fraudsters may:

  • Repeatedly create fake accounts to earn new member bonuses
  • Manufacture loyalty activity like reviews for point incentives
  • Open duplicate accounts to earn more rewards

Up to 15% of all loyalty program activity is estimated to be fraudulent. This drains marketing dollars and causes lost brand trust.

Tell-tale signs of loyalty fraud include:

  • Accounts with duplicated credentials like email or address
  • Surges in activity without shifts in purchases
  • Rewards activity from suspicious IPs or regions

Rigorously vetting new accounts, limiting rewards per customer, running fraud checks on high-risk activities, and correlating behaviors across channels can all help curb loyalty fraud.

5. Coupon Fraud

Coupon fraud refers to the fraudulent claiming of coupons or promo codes for unauthorized discounts.

Typical coupon scams include:

  • Using software to algorithmically guess valid unused promo codes
  • Sharing or reselling promo codes in breach of terms
  • Creating fake accounts to claim new user promos repeatedly

Invalid traffic from coupon sites represents the top channel for generating fraudulent clicks.

Tactics to stop coupon abuse include:

  • Limiting promos to single-use only
  • Requiring user sign-in to claim coupons
  • Establishing coupon whitelists
  • Using fingerprinting to spot promo abuse patterns

Ongoing coupon audits and monitoring redemption sources are also vital for catching coupon fraud.

6. Incentivized Traffic

Incentivized traffic refers to commission-driven content like blogs or links that only exist to generate affiliate income versus providing authentic value.

For example:

  • Reviews or rankings optimized solely to include affilate links rather than objective information
  • Thin blog posts with hundreds of affiliate links added primarily to earn commission
  • Comments or forum posts with unrelated affiliate links

Research shows over 65% of affiliate links come from incentivized posts with minimal real value.

The harm of low-quality inorganic content is two-fold:

  1. Often violates search engine guidelines and risks penalties
  2. Provides a poor user experience that damages brand reputation

Prioritizing ethics and audience value, not just potential affiliate income, is key to avoiding incentivized content pitfalls. Developing content policies, manual review processes, and moderator teams can also help keep quality standards high.

Emerging and Evolving Fraud Threats

In addition to the primary threats outlined above, businesses also need to stay on top of newer and evolving scams including:

Fake reviews and content – Fraudsters now use AI to auto-generate fake reviews and blog posts complete with affiliate links to earn commissions from merchants. Natural language generation tools make this content harder to spot as fraudulent. Carefully vetting creators and analyzing content patterns can help identify AI-written content farms.

Account takeovers – Scammers take over dormant social media or user accounts to change links to their own affiliate codes. Account security education and detection tools like fingerprinting help spot signs of account takeover activity.

App install hijacking – Unwanted apps bundled with legitimate downloads contain baked-in affiliate links. When users install the trojan apps, affiliate commissions trigger. Making bundled apps more transparent during installs can increase user awareness of this sneaky tactic.

Device emulators – Apps like FGL Pro allow fraudsters to emulate real user devices and in-app actions that generate affiliate commissions for app installs and actions that never took place. Advanced fingerprinting and behavioral analysis solutions are crucial for detecting emulated activity.

Attribution manipulation – Fraudsters falsify their click attribution data to take credit for conversions they didn‘t generate. For example, injecting their affiliate ID into organic traffic referrals. Rigorous multi-channel attribution modeling can help correct false attribution claims.

This overview shows how important it is to follow emerging affiliate fraud developments and adjust defenses accordingly.

6 Best Practices for Protecting Your Business from Affiliate Fraud

Now let‘s explore proactive strategies you can implement to get ahead of affiliate scammers before they cause damage.

1. Establish Robust Affiliate Policies

Document clear affiliate program policies and guidelines covering:

  • Payout structures – flat rate, revenue share, etc.
  • Qualifying actions – sale, lead, email sign-up, etc.
  • Allowed promotional methods – email, native ads, social, etc.
  • Prohibited practices – incentivized posts, inorganic content etc.
  • Compliance enforcement – including termination

Comprehensive program policies set expectations and give recourse against non-compliant affiliates.

2. Vet and Select Affiliates Carefully

Don‘t just let any random website join your program – be selective.

  • Review website quality, content, and traffic first
  • Reject affiliates promoting unrelated or questionable products/content
  • Require valid tax info, ID verification, and contact details

Establish a strict vetting and approval process to filter out high-risk affiliates upfront.

3. Develop an Affiliate Whitelist

Proactively curate a list of known good affiliates to ensure you only allow legitimate channels into your program.

  • Compile partners with long history and positive performance
  • Add reputable publishers relevant to your vertical
  • Require proof of past Affiliate Summit attendance

Building this exclusive whitelist limits your fraud surface area significantly.

4. Implement Robust Fraud Detection

Deploy purpose-built fraud detection technology to identify threats before they cause harm.

Look for solutions providing:

  • Real-time click fraud monitoring
  • Cookie analysis for stuffing
  • Attribution modeling to correctmanipulation
  • Device fingerprinting to spot emulators
  • Rules engine to customize protection

Ongoing fraud detection is essential for staying on top of constantly evolving tactics.

5. Monitor and Optimize Affiliate Links

Track and optimize affiliate links to improve performance and spot suspicious patterns.

  • A/B test different links and creatives
  • Analyze clicks, conversions, geometries, referrers, times
  • Isolate bot traffic signs like repeated clicks

Continuous link analysis and optimization ensures links drive legit qualified actions only.

6. Limitcommission Payouts

To reduce fraud incentive, limit commission sizes and timeframes. For example:

  • Cap commissions below revenue per acquisition
  • Only pay commissions upon customer retention milestones
  • Clawback commissions for excessive returns/chargebacks

With payouts pressurized, ROI diminishes for most fraudulent tactics.


This exhaustive guide summarizes the latest affiliate fraud threats along with tangible strategies to detect and prevent scams proactively.

The key takeaway is that fraudsters will work relentlessly to stay a step ahead. You must adopt similar vigilance, dedicating resources to constantly advance your fraud defenses based on emerging tactics and patterns.

With ongoing dedication to fraud prevention best practices, you can confidently scale your affiliate channel knowing risks are minimized.

If you need any assistance improving protections or selecting fraud detection vendors, please don‘t hesitate to reach out. We‘re always happy to help companies fortify their defenses against affiliate fraud.

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