According to this article from SearchEngine Land, in the middle of 2014, The Search Monitor discovered that a ring of fraudsters was impersonating more than 300 businesses on Yahoo, Bing and Google PPC advertising networks. The article was a bit fuzzy on if a particular type of fraud was taking place through the ring or if several types of fraud were taking place, but even without a group of individuals, there are several types of PPC fraud that can take place when someone falsely represents a brand.
In AdWords, you can set your URL to display as anything you like. This means that people will often see a domain name and assume that the link is sending them to this particular site. In the case of affiliate shortcuts, the visitor does end up at the website in question. However, the address implies that they arrived as a result of an affiliate advertiser directing them to the site.
This means that even though an affiliate may not have set up their own landing page or done any actual work, they will still get a credit for having generated a sale if someone purchases something. While a retailer is still making a sale and getting visitors to their site, they’re still going to end up paying someone who is dishonestly directing individuals to their site if they don’t discover the impersonation.
Impersonating a legitimate company may also allow dishonest individuals to harvest personal information from people. If a fraudster sets up a website that looks like a retailer or financial institution’s site, they may be able to get a variety of confidential information from people who arrived via a PPC ad that looked like it came from a well-known business.
Using Your Quality Scores Against You
Some competitors or individuals who are not affiliates may attempt to impersonate your site or business because branded ads tend to have very high click-through rates and low costs per click. This is great if people are going to your website, but not so great when they’re going to a competitor’s thinking they’re clicking on your ad.
Unmasking the Impostors
Advertising networks are cracking down on PPC impostor ads, but they may be difficult to discover if a group of individuals isn’t involved. Currently, one of the best ways to tell if your brand is being highjacked is to look at where clicks are coming from. If you see a large number of redirects to your landing pages or sites from an affiliate, you may want to do some looking.
You may also want to do searches for your brand name or popular products and look at the resulting ads. It will be fairly clear if someone is advertising as you when you see ads that you didn’t write and appear to represent your company.