Who’s account is it anyway?

Today I was wondering how many Affiliates think the actions of users coming via their links have nothing to do with them. To illustrate what I was thinking let’s take 3 examples to show different sides to the story and how rightly or wrongly an Affiliate could be associated with delivering fraudulent transactions. The idea of this post is to say to Affiliates it’s as important for you to try to deliver clean valued traffic as it is for Merchants to know how to spot fraud but how to deal with it correctly. Think before you act, but make sure you do act when it’s clear what is going on.

Scenario 1 – The most obvious and straight forward case is of an Affiliate that joins a Network and delivers leads using multiple free email accounts or makes sales using fake credit card details in the hope they not only do they get the goods from a Merchant (some don’t even care where the goods go) but also get paid commission for defrauding them at the same time. It’s rare but it happens!

What to look for: Same IP, or similar IP’s used over and over, easy to spot with loads of data, hard when it is a one off. Use-once email addresses are often used in this type of fraud, the likes of hotmail and yahoo etc are not used that much these days because the process for sign-up is a long one where as recursor.net, xoxy.net & mailinator.com offer pretty much unlimited number of addresses that require very little setup. It is not these companies faults that people use them to commit fraud but sadly that’s what some people are doing. Fraudulent sales from outside the country, check the IP Flag for the lead/sale. While it’s normal for people on holiday to buy things for friends back home over the Internet, these are the type of sales that Merchants should look at more closely.

Scenario 2 – Affiliate delivers the majority of his/her sales without any issues however a few big orders come through that are fraudulent or most of the leads they are sending are genuine but they sign up themselves via there Affiliate account and you don’t like this.

What to look for: Well you won’t find any real pattern other than majority of the stuff they do is legit and it’s these one off incidents that come up from time to time, as long as they are few and far between and it pretty much sits along same levels of fraud you experience outside of the Affiliate Marketing channel then you have nothing to worry about. As for an Affiliate joining your leads based program, it’s probably a test and is pretty much standard practice by many Affiliates before they deliver you hundreds or thousands of leads simply because we have all been down the road of big promotions only to see no conversions. However if this is a huge problem for you then I recommend you let the Affiliate know you will be removing it after the test, they won’t care however is it worth your time to even bother, your choice. If they test every other day and have not let you know, it could be possible fraud however approach the Affiliate before booting them.

Scenario 3 – Affiliate is incentive based or cash-back site, they get a few members who like scenario 1 sign-up to loads of stuff, however what makes it harder to spot is that the majority of the traffic is good and just a few bad eggs that are taking advantage and in some cases for thousands of pounds. However who is responsible here, well from Merchants and Networks point of view, it’s your Affiliate account and any criminal act that happens via it is your responsibility.

What to look for: Pretty much the same as scenario 1, only as an incentive based site when you collate your sales/leads you should be able to easily spot members who have signed up to a leads based program more than once, could set a checking threshold at if more than 3 sign-ups flag for investigation.

What can Affiliates like this do: Well for a start off flag up all leads based stuff to allow members only 1 entry and then block them from receiving any more commission. Add image based sign-up process for accounts on your site (Merchants could do this their end to really set back any automated fraud operation). Monitor members with more than 1 account, this is very easy to spot, but keep in mind family members may have an account each and use same computer and IP.

In Summary: Merchants check your leads and sales more closely, just because they are from the same IP doesn’t mean they are fraud and equally just because they are from overseas doesn’t mean anything without investigation. If you spot a fraudulent Affiliate contact your Network and have them binned (remember a Network should confirm everything before they bin an Affiliate on your say so), if you’re not sure for example like in the cash-back (Scenario 3) ask the Network to investigate further, it could just be the cash-back site has no real security in place and needs advice to tighten it up, if they don’t you can always drop them from your program.

For Affiliates it’s key that you combat any user fraud within your control as leaving it to run on and on could leave you liable for legal challenges or indeed Police investigation of your activates if wide spread and a lot of money is involved but more important than this it could damage trust in your sector and may find Affiliates of similar type of sites being refused access to program or commission lowered due to preserved risk.

Note: I have not put up every type of scenario as I don’t want to give people ideas, especially the harder to spot ones I have come across over the years. I have missed out Spyware totally as anyone using that knows what they are doing and once caught should be instantly binned and all commission returned.