With the pandemic changing the way many of us work, the rise in paid-to-click (PTC) websites has been stratospheric. These websites and apps pay registered users a small fee to click or view ads. And, of course, they make a tidy sum themselves from hosting those ads and collecting the payout from the traffic they generate.

In fact, it’s estimated that the biggest sites made around $12 million in 2020 alone.

Read our report about the rise of PTC sites in 2020

But, as well as a number of well-known and authentic paid-to-click websites, there has been an alarming rise in sites run by unscrupulous scammers.

The rise of scam PTC sites

James Greening, owner of Fake Website Buster says, “During the pandemic I’ve seen online scams skyrocketing… and (the pandemic) has also been a real boon for scammers preying on job seekers.”

With paid-to-click websites relatively easy to set up, it’s an obvious target for scammers to move into. 

Although sites like NeoBux and Scarlet Clix are genuine PTC sites that do actually pay their users, there are a growing number that are designed to make a fraudulent publisher as much money as they can off unsuspecting advertisers and desperate job seekers.

Of course, genuine paid-to-click sites still impact marketers by spending their ad budget on people who aren’t necessarily interested in the product. 

But these scam PTC sites hook in users with offers of easy money, only to waste their time and of course, skip on the payment.

As James says, “These platforms offer to pay users to watch videos, which constitutes click fraud. The payout rate is also very high for this kind of work… And in addition, they claim to pay out 40% in referrals if users get more people to sign up… Indicating that these sites also operate as a kind of ponzi scheme.”

An example of the currenty glut of scam PTC defrauding advertisers and job seekers

Although scam PTC sites are nothing new, there are a glut of them that have been set up relatively recently, many with nonsense names, often with a .xyz or .site domain registry.

Wintub.com, xopmoney.XYZ, aervideo.xyz, and Rupee4click.com are all examples of this worrying trend of paid-to-click sites designed specifically to scam both advertisers and users. 

Some of the giveaways of these scam sites include:

  • Low-quality site design
  • No contact details or social media accounts
  • Poor ratings on review sites such as TrustPilot
  • Positive reviews on these sites clearly paid for or nonsensical
  • Recent registration
  • A ‘too good to be true’ offer – such as a high payout per view or click

As a user under the name kingsoflegend on the Digital Point forum puts it:

“PTC traffic must be the second worst converting type of traffic, one step above bot traffic. 

“Personally I’ve been getting free PTC traffic on my sites without requesting it, so my guess is these PTC sites just make up advertisers to give users the impression that the PTC site has legit sources of income and isn’t just a pyramid scheme that will collapse as soon as the first user requests payment.”

For users of PTC sites

Paid-to-click sites often target people in countries where the income is relatively low. The payout for these sites is usually in the range of pennies per minute, but scam PTC sites will seem to offer an income way above their competitors.

Always do your research and read reviews before signing up to work with a PTC site.

Be aware, though, that these sites, even the genuine articles, are enablers of click fraud, meaning that someone somewhere is losing a lot of money from your activity. Worse still, the people who do the hard work of clicking and viewing ads make peanuts, while the site owner collects a sizable dividend from your hard work.

There are plenty of other ways to make money online that don’t involve defrauding advertisers. 

How PTC sites work

Creating a PTC site is the sort of work that takes an experienced web developer just a couple of hours at most. 

These sites are then used to host banner ads, display videos, download links, surveys, pop-ups, and sometimes even games. Users are then paid (theoretically) for their engagement with each of these advertising elements.

The actual architecture of a PTC site is pretty simple, with little else other than the site database, the user/login infrastructure, and a platform to run the ads.

Most of them don’t use complex routing, such as VPNs, to mask site locations. However, this is, of course, something that an organized scammer could put in place.

The ads hosted on these sites often come from relatively low-quality ad exchanges or from direct advertisers and often from affiliate marketing platforms too. But, on occasion, a savvy coder will embed their Google AdSense or Facebook ads to increase their payouts.

This can also be done in the form of genuine ads on the site, which can add to the payout for the publisher. Even sites that haven’t been verified by the ad platform can sneakily insert code to display ads, for example, from Google or Facebook. 

And, additionally, getting traffic to your scam PTC site presents another threat to marketers: The use of bots and click farms.

With fake traffic available for pocket money, PTC site operators can easily inflate their site visitors and maximize their income from their scam sites.

What this means for advertisers

Although many PTC sites rely on partnerships with exchanges and ad platforms to host their ads, there is a whole underground world of scammers looking for ways to squeeze more money out of their websites.

For advertisers looking to avoid being affected by scam PTC site traffic, there are a few steps you can take:

  • Avoid partnering with low-quality ad platforms
  • Ensure you use geo-targeting and exclude countries, regions, and territories where you see suspicious traffic coming from
  • If you use an affiliate marketing platform, make sure to do a regular audit of sites where your links/ads are hosted
  • Check your ads dashboard regularly for IP addresses that might be conducting unusual activity
  • Use ClickCease to block clicks from bots and click farms in real-time and to flag suspicious activity 

Like many facets of click fraud and ad fraud, the landscape and the tech is changing constantly. With more and more people looking for an easy way to make money online, we can only expect these scam paid-to-click sites to proliferate. 

If you’re managing PPC ad campaigns, make sure to use the industry-leading click fraud prevention software, ClickCease, to stay ahead of the ever-changing fraud threats online.