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How to identify fraudulent affiliates

Sam Brady

26 May 2023

Identifying dodgy affiliates is a crucial part of affiliate management.

If you're running an affiliate program, it's essential to keep an eye on fraudulent affiliates. They can damage your reputation, cost you money, and jeopardize your entire business. In this article, we'll explore various types of affiliate fraud and teach you how to identify and prevent it.

Understanding Affiliate Marketing Fraud

First, let's define what affiliate marketing fraud is. It refers to any attempt to scam your affiliate program, either by people outside of your organization or your affiliates themselves. It includes dishonest practices that lead to undeserved commissions, including fake clicks, leads, and sales.

Affiliate marketing is a popular and effective way for businesses to promote their products and services. It involves partnering with affiliates who promote your products on their websites or social media platforms. In return, they earn a commission on any sales made through their affiliate link. However, with the rise of affiliate marketing comes the rise of affiliate marketing fraud.

Common types of affiliate fraud

There are many ways in which people may attempt to defraud your affiliate program. Here are a few common methods:

  • Cookie stuffing - when an affiliate dumps their links on a user's computer without their knowledge

  • False leads - when an affiliate generates leads that are either fake or not interested in your product or service

  • Coupon fraud - when an affiliate creates and distributes unauthorized discount codes, leading to a loss of revenue for your business

  • Brand bidding - when an affiliate tries to bid on your branded keywords in search engines, diverting traffic that was meant for you

It is important for businesses to be aware of these types of fraud and take steps to prevent them from happening. This can include monitoring affiliate activity, setting up fraud detection software, and establishing clear guidelines and policies for affiliates to follow.

The impact of fraudulent affiliates on businesses

Having fraudulent affiliates in your program can significantly impact your business. For one, it could lead to a loss of revenue - your business could be paying out commissions for fake referrals and sales. It could also impact your reputation, leading to customers losing trust in your brand. Additionally, your business may suffer from a higher chargeback rate, leading to higher fees from payment processors.

Not only can fraudulent affiliates harm your business financially, but they can also harm your relationships with legitimate affiliates. If legitimate affiliates see that fraudulent activity is taking place, they may be less likely to continue promoting your products or services.

It is important for businesses to take a proactive approach to preventing affiliate marketing fraud. This includes educating affiliates on the importance of ethical marketing practices and establishing clear guidelines for affiliate behavior. By taking these steps, businesses can protect their reputation and ensure that their affiliate program is a valuable and effective marketing tool.

Signs of Fraudulent Affiliates

Unusual traffic patterns

If affiliates are driving traffic with a high bounce rate without conversions, or a traffic spike that doesn't relate to a specific event, it could be a red flag. High traffic doesn't always mean high conversions.

It's important to note that unusual traffic patterns can also be caused by factors outside of affiliate fraud, such as a change in search engine algorithms or a sudden surge in interest in a particular topic. However, it's always better to err on the side of caution and investigate any irregularities.

High chargeback rates

A high chargeback rate indicates a higher risk of affiliate fraud, signaling that affiliates may be generating fake leads or sales. High chargeback rates also mean that you're more likely to lose revenue as a retailer, become exposed to fines and reputation damage.

But not all chargebacks are caused by fraudulent affiliates. Chargebacks can also occur due to customer disputes, technical errors, or other factors. It's essential to investigate the cause of chargebacks thoroughly to determine if they're the result of fraudulent activity.

Suspicious conversion rates

If the conversions of an affiliate are too high, too low, or too erratic, it could indicate that something suspicious is going on. You should investigate any irregularities to ensure that you're paying your affiliates fairly.

It's important to note that conversion rates can also be affected by factors outside of affiliate fraud, such as changes in consumer behavior or seasonal fluctuations. However, if you notice a sudden and significant change in conversion rates, it's worth investigating to ensure that everything is above board.

Unexplained revenue spikes

If your affiliate suddenly spikes in revenue without any explanation or significant boost in traffic, it could signify affiliate fraud. This sudden surge should raise a red flag, and you should investigate promptly.

However, it's also worth considering that revenue spikes can be caused by factors outside of affiliate fraud, such as a successful marketing campaign or a sudden increase in demand for a particular product. Always investigate thoroughly to ensure that you're not falsely accusing your affiliates of fraudulent activity.

Monitoring and Tracking Affiliate Performance

Affiliate marketing is a popular method used by businesses to promote their products or services. It involves partnering with individuals or companies who promote the business's products or services and earn a commission for each sale made through their unique affiliate link. While affiliate marketing can be a lucrative business, it's essential to monitor and track affiliate performance to ensure that the business is getting the most out of its affiliate program.

Setting up tracking systems

The first step to tracking and monitoring your affiliate's performance is to ensure that you have a robust system in place. This system should be able to track all the data points, including the clicks, conversions, and sales that an affiliate generates. A reliable tracking system will help you identify the most successful affiliates and the ones who need improvement. It will also help you identify any fraudulent or suspicious activities that require further investigation.

There are several tracking systems available, including affiliate network tracking software, third-party tracking software, and in-house tracking software. Each tracking system has its advantages and disadvantages, and it's essential to choose the one that best suits your business's needs.

Analyzing affiliate data

Once you have the tracking system in place, it's essential to analyze the data generated to understand how each affiliate is performing. Your system should provide you with a complete overview of each affiliate's performance, including traffic volumes, the number of conversions, and the percentage of successful sales. This information will help you spot any unusual activity quickly.

When analyzing affiliate data, it's essential to look at the bigger picture rather than focusing on individual metrics. For example, an affiliate may have a high number of clicks, but if those clicks aren't converting into sales, then the affiliate's performance is not as successful as it may seem. Therefore, it's crucial to analyze the data comprehensively to get an accurate picture of each affiliate's performance.

Regularly reviewing affiliate performance

As an affiliate marketer, you should regularly monitor and analyze the performance of your affiliates. Regular reviews will allow you to spot any trends or unexpected activities quickly. Ensure that you regularly review the metrics and investigate any concerning patterns.

Regular reviews will also help you identify opportunities to improve your affiliate program. For example, if you notice that one affiliate is performing exceptionally well, you may want to consider offering them a higher commission or providing them with additional marketing materials to help them promote your products or services more effectively.

Regularly reviewing affiliate performance will help you optimize your affiliate program, maximize your revenue, and build a strong and successful affiliate network.

Preventing Affiliate Fraud

Thoroughly vetting potential affiliates

The first step in preventing fraud is to thoroughly vet your affiliate partners. Ensure that you ask for references and check the entire online footprint to verify the legitimacy of their businesses.

It is important to remember that affiliates are an extension of your brand, so you want to ensure that they uphold the same values and standards that you do. By vetting your potential affiliates, you can save yourself from potential headaches and protect your brand's reputation.

Additionally, it is important to establish a relationship with your affiliates. By getting to know them and their business practices, you can better understand their motivations and goals, and work together to achieve success.

Establishing clear terms and conditions

You need to have clear terms and conditions for affiliate participation in your program. Be specific on the ad types they can use, what types of promotions they can run and the number of times they are allowed to use those promotions. Establish the penalties for affiliate fraud, and let your affiliates know you're monitoring their performance closely.

It is important to have a clear and concise agreement in place that outlines the expectations and responsibilities of both parties. This can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Furthermore, it is important to regularly review and update your terms and conditions to ensure that they are in line with industry standards and regulations.

Implementing fraud detection tools

Implement fraud detection tools that can recognize and monitor for fraudulent activity. Be sure to monitor the tools' performance periodically and adjust to keep them updated.

There are a variety of fraud detection tools available, ranging from simple click tracking to more complex algorithms that can detect patterns of fraudulent behavior. It is important to choose a tool that is appropriate for your business and to regularly review its effectiveness.

Additionally, it may be beneficial to work with a third-party provider that specializes in fraud detection and prevention. This can provide an added layer of protection and expertise.

Educating affiliates on best practices

Educate your affiliates on the best practices in the industry, especially when it comes to driving traffic and generating leads. Ensure that they understand how to be compliant with the regulations and that you're available to answer any questions or concerns.

By providing your affiliates with the knowledge and resources they need to succeed, you can help them achieve their goals while also protecting your business from potential fraud. This can include providing training on compliance, best practices for ad placement and promotion, and tips for optimizing their campaigns.

Additionally, it is important to foster open communication with your affiliates. Encourage them to reach out with any questions or concerns, and be responsive and supportive in your interactions.


In conclusion, it's crucial to stay vigilant when running an affiliate marketing program. Implementing fraud prevention measures and monitoring affiliate activity is key to keeping your program profitable and reputable. By following the strategies provided in this article, you'll be better equipped to identify fraudulent activity and prevent it from occurring.

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