Online advertising fraud is apparently becoming a big problem, and even big companies like Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) and AOL, Inc. (NYSE:AOL) may be participating, according to an investigation conducted by Adweek (via Business Insider). The site looked into techniques used by click farms to boost reputable publishers’ traffic and the use of people or even robots to click links and create more traffic for sites.

Yahoo

AOL, Yahoo selling fraudulent impressions?

Mike Shields reports that buys of ads told them that inventory on Advertising.com, which is AOL, Inc. (NYSE:AOL)’s premium ad exchange, sometimes came from websites which could not be identified. They also said some inventory came from live video chat sites or other networks where people probably wouldn’t see the links.

According to Adweek, Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)’s Genome ad targeting platform sometimes publishes ads in some rather questionable places online, including MediaFire, which is a file sharing site, and other ad networks like Blackboxmedia and eHealthcareSolutions.

Problems with online ad fraud

An online security firm estimates that online advertising fraud has cost advertisers about $6 billion. Some speculate that it’s unclear who, if anyone, might want to put an end to online advertising fraud. Some brands, even big blue chip ones, see ad fraud as one of the costs associated with doing business. Publishers also benefit greatly from the boost their numbers see because of click farms. They get to charge higher rates because they have more traffic coming to their sites. And buyers of ads don’t necessarily want to put an end to ad fraud because they may look dumb just for purchasing those fake ad impressions anyway.

What about Facebook?

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) is another company brought up in the article, but it suggests that the social network has fewer problems with online ad fraud, mostly because it is a closed environment. The company says it has fake profiles and artificial likes under control.

According to Adweek, most of the problem is on open ad exchanges and real-time bidding networks. Nonetheless, experts still see Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), AOL, Inc. (NYSE:AOL) and other well-known companies as mostly “good guys” who are simply vulnerable to online ad fraud because they have open exchanges.