What ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Can Teach Us About Mobile Fraud

michael-oiknineData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media. 

Today’s column is written by Michael Oiknine, co-founder and CEO at Apsalar.

In the long-running NBC police procedural “Law & Order: SVU,” Detectives Benson and Stabler focused on three things when solving murders: means, motive and opportunity.

These concepts can also play an important role in defining an approach for mobile fraud, another criminal challenge. Indeed, they should be cornerstones in how marketers define and implement an anti-fraud strategy for their businesses.

Certainly the number of marketers who are passionate about addressing mobile fraud is growing. At the recent AdExchanger Clean Ads I/O Conference, the packed house really responded to the focus on actionable solutions – tangible things that can help address the challenges in material ways. It was clear that many marketers are well past the wringing-hands stage of problem recognition and are ready to act.

No one wants to be a victim. But while there is a means, motive and opportunity surrounding mobile fraud, there are also ways to address each.

The Means, Motive And Opportunity

Let’s start with means. There are a lot of ways to try and perpetrate fraud, from device emulators that generate a blizzard of ad impressions no human will ever see, to hijacked apps that take in-app purchases and ad revenue directly from publishers, to illegitimate clicks that steal impact from brand programs and campaigns. They’ve got lots of weapons at their disposal.

The motive is easy: Fraud is about making money. And the reason why fraud is growing so quickly is because the amount of money fraudsters can steal is rising rapidly. Dollars are pouring into mobile far faster than the growth in strong mobile marketing opportunities. For a would-be perpetrator of fraud, that’s an ideal environment in which to operate, and the potential payoffs increase every day.

As the marketplace continues to expand, some fraud is inevitable, just as pickpockets are a fact of urban life. But that doesn’t mean we need to add to their motivation by allowing blithe ignorance make brands a prime target.

As for opportunity, fraudsters focus their efforts when and how they can perpetrate their crimes unnoticed – in the metaphorical dark alleys of the industry. The extreme fragmentation of the mobile media market and the lack of transparency still displayed by some ad networks create lots of those shadowy nooks.

The Fraud Detective’s Handbook

The drivers of mobile fraud are no mystery, and neither are the ways that marketers can act to reduce the risks. In “Law & Order,” the NYPD always has a game plan. Here’s one to help marketers dramatically reduce their losses.

They can start by getting the necessary marketing information and analytics since it’s impossible to fight what you can’t see. Marketers must Identify tools that can help pinpoint and investigate sources of mobile fraud. Critical here is getting a view into fraud warning signs, such as suspiciously high ad views from devices, gigantic app-install counts in very short periods of time or high numbers of fraudulent transactions from Android application package venues.

Brands must also dedicate and incentivize resources to analyzing marketing and in-app data and identifying potential sources of fraud. Make fraud detection and prevention a core responsibility for someone on the team or find experts to help. Fraud prevention is definitely an area in which better matters, and the cost of detection is generally a tiny fraction of the money saved.

It’s possible to unlock insights in campaign data. Basic metrics from advertising and retention programs offer critical clues for fraud detection and prevention. Using key measures, such as conversion funnel and app uninstall rates, can help determine the best channels for driving great customers. International perspective can be valuable here because new forms of fraud often appear regionally before they wreak global financial havoc.

Advertisers should stop relying on surrogate metrics for measuring marketing effectiveness. Don’t use click counts, for example, as a guesstimate for relative effectiveness at driving app installs or revenue. The correlation is actually dreadful. Instead, brands should focus on measuring impact on their true KPIs.

Industry trade organization play a role in helping to combat fraud. Such work is essential to ensuring the vitality of our industry. But industry-level initiatives are no substitute for brands taking their health and well-being into their own hands.

It’s clear that developing and implementing a real plan is critical. Only by addressing the means, motives and opportunities of mobile fraud can CMOs do their fiduciary duty. Since detectives Benson and Stabler are busy fighting other crimes, solving this challenge comes down to each of us.

Follow Apsalar (@apsalarinc) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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