Cookie Fraud, also known as cookie stuffing is a serious problem that diverts (steals) commissions intended for a legitimate website which are paid by an advertising website.
On the World Wide Web, cookie stuffing (also cookie dropping) is an affiliate marketing technique in which, as a result of visiting a website, a user receives a third-party cookie from an entirely different website (the target website), usually without the user being aware of it. If the user later visits the target website and completes a qualifying transaction (such as making a purchase), the cookie stuffer is paid a commission by the target. Because the stuffer has not actually encouraged the user to visit the target, this technique is considered illegitimate by many affiliate schemes.
Cookie stuffing is often referred to as a blackhat online marketing technique. This not only has the potential to generate fraudulent affiliate income for the cookie stuffer, but may also overwrite legitimate affiliate cookies, essentially stealing the commission from another affiliate. It is perfectly normal for a user to visit a website, click on a link and be directed to a target affiliate site but not complete a qualifying transaction at that time. That user may revisit the target affiliate website at some later time and complete a qualifying transaction. The original referring affiliate would be credited with the transaction and make a commission. However, many affiliate programs award the commission to the most recent referring affiliate, not the original referring affiliate.
Is it a serious crime?
Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. (18 USC Sec. 1343)