The primary goal of surveys is to collect information about a specific population is to leverage the data for decision-making. But what happens when the data you are collecting is false?

Professional survey cheaters are individuals or groups who deliberately provide false or misleading information in surveys to earn money or manipulate the results. 

When survey data gets manipulated by cheaters, researchers draw wrong conclusions from the data. This makes it difficult for companies and organizations that use survey data to make informed decisions.

In this guide, we will explore the strategies for identifying and avoiding professional survey cheating.

Understanding Professional Survey Cheaters

Professional survey cheaters intentionally provide false or misleading information for financial or other gain. They use different methods to falsify survey results, including automated bots or scripts that complete surveys quickly, or pre-defined answers to questions.

Another thing to note about professional survey cheaters is that they’re experts; they’ve mastered the art of manipulating survey research methods for their gain. Professional survey cheaters are typically so good at it that you may not b able to spot them if you’re not looking.

Different survey cheaters do it for different reasons but the most common reasons are financial gain, gaming incentives, and sabotaging research.

Also, the most common inaccurate data professional survey give are providing preconceived answers, creating multiple accounts to get multiple incentives, and lying about their demographics so they qualify for more surveys. Some cheaters also create scripts and bots to help them answer survey questions quickly.

Impacts of Professional Survey Cheating

  • Undermining the Reliability and Validity of Survey Research

Survey research is a valuable tool for collecting data about people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. But professional survey cheaters make the results less reliable by giving people inaccurate or biased information.

For example, if respondents cheat by answering questions randomly or copying and pasting answers from another survey about a product and its features, the results will be biased. This can result in faulty conclusions and decisions, the product team could end up developing features their actual users don’t need or want.

Read More – Reliability vs Validity in Research: Types & Examples

  • Misrepresentation of Data, Leading To Faulty Conclusions and Decisions

Professional survey cheaters also often provide false or misleading information. For example, a respondent might claim to be a customer of a company when they are not, or they might exaggerate their level of satisfaction with a product or service.

If your data is wrong, it can cause you to make wrong decisions. For example, you might decide to mass produce a new product because it had high acceptance in the survey, but then you find out that the survey wasn’t accurate.

  • Negative Consequences for Organizations Relying on Survey Data

A significant negative impact of professional survey cheating is when organizations or people make a decision based on inaccurate survey results, it could lose money or damage its reputation.

It could also have legal consequences for the individual or organizations that used inaccurate data. For example, a pharmaceutical company can be sued by shareholders or customers who were harmed by the company’s decisions based on falsified data.

Related: How to Correct Biased Survey Results

Identifying Professional Survey Cheaters

Signs and Red Flags Indicating Potential Professional Survey Cheating

  • Short Survey Completion Time: Professional survey cheaters will often try to complete surveys as quickly as possible to earn more money. For example,  professional survey cheaters with multiple accounts will try to finish the survey quickly, so they can move on and complete the same survey on their other accounts.
  • Inconsistent or Contradictory Answers: Professional survey cheaters may not take the time to read the questions carefully, which can lead to inconsistent or contradictory answers. For example, a respondent might say that earn up to $5000/month in one question but claim not to be able to afford an important subscription of $10/month in another.
  • Unrealistic or Implausible Responses: Professional survey cheaters may try to provide answers that they think the survey creator wants to hear. For example, a respondent might say they are delighted with all the features of a product or service, even when the product needs obvious improvements.
  • Multiple IP Addresses: Professional survey cheaters may use multiple IP addresses to complete surveys to avoid detection. For example, the same respondent might take surveys using VPNs with multiple IP addresses.

Data Patterns and Anomalies That Suggest Fraudulent Activities

  • Sudden Spikes in Survey Responses: If there is a sudden spike in the number of survey responses, there could be respondents with multiple accounts.
  • Unusually High Completion Rates: If the completion rate for a survey is unusually high, there are probably professional survey cheaters cheating with bots or scripts.
  • Unusual Patterns in the Distribution of Answers: If there is a suspicious distribution of the survey data, it can be a sign of cheating. For example, if all respondents answer the same question in the same way, it can be an indication of respondents using scripts, bots, or the same person using multiple accounts.

Utilizing Data Analytics and Statistical Techniques to Detect Cheating Behavior

Data analytics and statistical techniques help you to identify patterns and anomalies in the data that may suggest cheating. 

For example, you can use data analytics to tell if the same respondent is answering surveys from different IP addresses. You can also use statistical methods to figure out if people are giving inconsistent answers.

Strategies to Prevent Professional Survey Cheating

Pre-survey Preparations

  • State Survey Rules and Guidelines: Make sure that participants are aware of the rules and guidelines of the survey, including any penalties for cheating.
  • Implement Captchas and Anti-bot Measures: This stops bots from completing surveys.
  • Use a Reputable Survey Platform: Use a reliable and secure survey platform to ensure the data is encrypted to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Monitor Participant Behaviors and Response Patterns: Carefully track and analyze participants’ behaviors and response patterns to identify any suspicious activity.
  • Include Attention Checks and Quality Control Questions: Ensure respondents are paying attention and providing accurate information by adding quality control questions. Make sure you add the attention checks aren’t blatant, so you can truly detect if respondents are paying attention.
  • Randomize Question Order: Randomize the order of the questions and the response options to make it more difficult for cheaters to memorize the answers.

Post-Survey Analysis

  • Data Integrity Checks and Validation: Conduct data integrity checks and validation procedures to identify fraudulent responses.
  • Analyze Response Patterns and Outliers for Suspicious Activities: Analyze response patterns and outliers for suspicious activities.
  • Utilizing Statistical Methods to Detect and Remove Fraudulent Responses: Utilize statistical methods to detect and remove fraudulent responses.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

  • Ensure Informed Consent and Data Privacy: Make sure that respondents have given their informed consent to participate in the survey, and that their privacy is protected.
  • Compliance with Data Protection Regulations: Ensure the survey complies with all applicable data protection regulations.
  • Report and Take Appropriate Action against Identified Cheaters: If you identify any cheaters, report them to the appropriate authorities and take appropriate action. For example, their IP addresses can be banned from taking surveys, cancel their incentives, and remove their responses from the collected data.

Case Studies and Examples

Real-Life Examples of Professional Survey Cheating Incidents

In 2016, Cambridge Analytica was accused of fabricating data for a political poll in the UK, which showed a large lead for the Brexit campaign. The company allegedly used a small sample of respondents and then duplicated their responses to inflate the numbers. 

The company denied the allegations, but the poll was widely criticized and disregarded by experts and the public.

In 2015, there were claims that the customer satisfaction survey on Samsung phones vs iPhones in May 2014 was wrong. The data showed that people liked Samsung phones more than iPhones, but iPhone was doing better in terms of sales, which caused professionals to question the results.

Lessons Learned and Implications for Survey Researchers

Professional survey cheaters are constantly evolving, researchers need to be aware of the different methods professionals survey cheaters use and how to mitigate them. 

Survey researchers need to use a combination of methods and measures to prevent, identify, and eliminate cheating from their data. These include survey design, quality control, data analysis, and fraud prevention tools.

You also need to ensure that your surveys aren’t too long, dull, complex, or irrelevant to your target population. This can discourage genuine respondents from taking the survey and encourage cheating.

Success Stories of Organizations Implementing Effective Anti-cheating Measures

Imperium is a company that provides data integrity solutions for market research. It offers various products and services that help researchers detect and prevent fraud, such as RelevantID (a digital fingerprinting technology), Verity (a respondent validation system), and DataTrust (a data quality certification).

Formplus is a survey software that allows you to add attention and quality control checks to prevent cheating and collect valid feedback from respondents. You also get to see the data such as completion rate, response patterns, and more in real-time

Conclusion

Professional survey cheating is a dynamic and serious problem with significant negative consequences. Fortunately, there are several red flags and measures to help you identify and mitigate cheating in surveys.

Knowing these signs and red flags not only helps to prevent cheating; it also ensures that survey data are accurate and reliable. This will help you draw valid data-driven decisions.


  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 7 min read

Formplus

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