A Perspective on Fraudulent Respondents by Gemma Ryder of Acumen Fieldwork

Since starting my career as a fieldwork manager some two and half years ago, respondent fraud is becoming increasingly common as it seems respondents everywhere are becoming ‘savvy to the system’. Unfortunately, it affects every link in the Market Research chain; from the hardworking recruiter to the expectant end client so a joint effort is needed to weed out this growing problem.

Respondent Identities

The most typical case of respondent fraud that fieldworkers would come across would be respondents simply using fake names and/or addresses to create another identity. The false identity is very much up to the individual; fake occupation, family type and even ages can be attached to this false identity. To combat this, Acumen recently signed up to Acumonitor; a bespoke system designed by fieldworkers which automatically checks respondents against Acumen’s existing database of market research participants and flags any which have been used before. And, because it automatically checks against five fields of data it also highlights those respondents who have altered their details, either legitimately (through marriage for example) or because they are using multiple fraudulent identities.
The database’s five point check has proved invaluable in helping protect our clients against fraudulent and heavy repeat respondents, but has similarly aided our recruiters enormously by identifying falsified accounts from their systems. More often than not, once one respondent is identified as a fraud it leads to a number of other false identities being discovered which further helps erase these ‘respondents’ from any future projects.

The Rise of Online Recruitment

How has respondent fraud come about? One argument suggests that the increased use of online recruiter databases; where members of the public are invited to sign up to take part in Market Research sessions via a website, could be leaving recruiters vulnerable for this type of respondent behaviour. As with any methodology, online databases have their pros and cons. Online databases are excellent for reaching a wider and more diverse community in a shorter period of time, using fewer resources, although respondent validity can be jeopardised as the face-to-face contact is taken out of the chain. This leaves recruiters wide open for the dishonest types to take advantage of their anonymity. Basically, if the respondent has multiple email addresses there is no limit to the amount of times they can ‘register’, resulting in a rise of fraudulent respondents.

What do fraudulent respondents mean to Market Research?

Fraudulent respondents have a type of domino effect within Market Research which undermines the basic integrity of the data. From the respondent’s point of view, the re-registering under different names to gain access to more research sessions has an obvious monetary gain, but what is missed is how their actions create false data that ironically may affect them as consumers. The opinions of these fraudulent respondent’s in Market Research sessions will go back into developing new products and ideas which get filtered back into the consumer market for, namely, the respondents themselves. The whole situation places unnecessary stress on all parties involved but ultimately it is the research that suffers. Naturally, questions from the client end will start to arise; did the fraudulent respondent’s opinions sway others in the group? Did this interrupt the validity of the entire session? It really places a sense of disappointment on the project when the respondent’s participation began with a lie.

Preventing Fraudulent Respondents

So what are the solutions? Acumen’s company policy requires that all viewing facilities we use check ALL respondents ID before admission to Market Research sessions. In addition, all respondents, no exceptions, are entered by our recruiters through Acumen’s bespoke database. Finally, and possibly the most effective, would be to pass the details of the accused to law enforcement officials, as fraud is ultimately a criminal offence.

To conclude, it is near impossible to completely eradicate the problem of fraudulent respondents with cases reported of respondents even resorting to wearing wigs to disguise their true identity (true story!) but hopefully by highlighting and discussing the problem of respondent fraud, recruiters, fieldworkers, clients and viewing facilities can work together to safeguard market research from this respondent behaviour.

Originally posted on the Acumen Fieldwork site