Web consultant Greg Boser has an ingenious method for sending loads of traffic to clients' Internet sites. Last month he began using a software program known as a clickbot to create the impression that users from around the world were visiting sites by way of ads strategically placed alongside Google search results. The trouble is, all the clicks are fake. And because Google charges advertisers on a per-click basis, the extra traffic could mean sky-high bills for Boser's clients.

But Boser's no fraudster. He cleared the procedure with clients beforehand and plans to reimburse any resulting charges. What's he up to? Boser wants to get to the bottom of a blight that's creating growing concern for online advertisers and threatens to wreak havoc across the Internet: click fraud.

The practice can wildly skew statistics on the popularity of an ad, drain marketing budgets, and enrich the scam artists behind it. While click fraud isn't new, the methods for carrying it out are getting increasingly sophisticated. And some advertisers, analysts and consultants question whether Web companies such as Google and Yahoo are doing enough to nip click fraud in the bud. "No one has any idea how much of this is actually going on," says Boser. "So we're going to see how well [the search engines] actually try to protect advertisers."

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