Advertising, Connected TV, News

“SmokeScreen” Apps Defraud CTV Advertisers Out of Millions

It’s Just Another Example of Rising CTV Fraud

“SmokeScreen” Apps Defraud CTV Advertisers Out of Millions

4 Min Read

Late last week, DoubleVerify’s Fraud Lab released a report detailing a new Connected TV scam – one that cheated advertisers out of $6 million in just a few months. The scam, known as “SmokeScreen,” utilized fraudulent screensaver apps that targeted users on external devices like streaming sticks or game consoles. Because these devices always remain on, even when a user turns their TV screen off, the scammers were able to quietly continue to run ads in the background – producing falsified data for ads that were never watched.

The result? Nearly 10,000 devices were impacted daily, generating up to 10 million fraudulent requests a day. At current CTV ad spends, it’s estimated that this produced over $6 million in false impressions, cheating advertising by having them spend money on ads that were never seen. This isn’t the first CTV scam – and it certainly won’t be the last.

Fraud on the Rise

As Connected TV has become a popular third rail for advertising, brands are dedicating larger and larger portions of their ad budget to CTV ads – and those investments have attracted scammers looking to make a quick buck (or six million). Last year saw several damaging events in CTV ad fraud. The DiCaprio and Monarch scams affected apps on Roku devices made before 2020 and resulted in millions of lost advertising dollars. Similar to SmokeScreen, ICEBUCKET impersonated two million people to fool advertisers into paying for ads that were never seen. And StreamScam – the largest instance of CTV ad fraud to date – spoofed more than 28 million households and stole over $14 million by targeting a vulnerability in the programmatic supply chain.

With CTV ad spend continuing to rise alongside skyrocketing viewership rates, advertisers are understandably worried about protecting their ad dollars. Thankfully there are a few common traits that CTV ad fraud schemes share:

  • The reliance on “spoofing” to impersonate users, apps, and device IDs
  • The ability to exploit weaknesses somewhere in the supply chain
  • The use of bots to generate ad impressions that are not watched

Closed Markets Keep Out the Scammers

There are additional measures that your brand can take to ensure your ad dollars are well-spent. For instance, our Living Room Quality PMP provides top-tier inventory thanks to our direct relationships with premium publishers. This provides both preferred pricing on quality CTV networks and apps and acts as a private marketplace to protect advertisers from fraud found on open exchanges.

As marketers ourselves, we understand the value of ad budgets and why advertisers need to know they’re spending it on legitimate inventory. The direct publisher relationships from Living Room Quality eliminate exploitable vulnerabilities in the media buying process and ensure that your precious ad dollars are going to where they’re needed most.

Transparent Reporting Gives the Full Picture

Thankfully, the biggest deterrent to fraud is simple: transparent reporting. All known CTV ad fraud has occurred at the impression level to take advantage of CPM pricing models, and with the shift from manual to programmatic advertising, marketers can have a harder time understanding where their ads are running.

Transparent reporting removes these blind spots giving marketers the data they need to quickly identify suspicious activity. MNTN’s Performance TV platform takes this one step further with our proprietary attribution technology, Cross-Device Verified Visits. This proprietary technology  measures any user visits to your site following the guaranteed in-view display of your ads

With MNTN’s reporting suite, these actions can be tracked along with any other metric, giving you insight down to the network level. Full integration with Google Analytics provides an additional layer of accountability and transparency. The result is the ability to always see what CTV networks are running your ads and how they’re performing in real-time.

At the Peak of Security

A report by eMarketer projects that U.S upfront ad spending on CTV will reach $4.51 billion in 2021, up from $3 billion in 2020 – and that number is only going to continue to grow. So too will CTV ad fraud. More than ever, it is critical for advertisers to know where their money is going and be able to track it. By following best practices, taking the necessary precautions, and investing in the proper reporting tools, you can rest easy – and keep your focus on growing further in 2022.