Fraudulent panelists have always plagued market research recruiters and panel providers, but the industry experienced an exponential uptick in fraud due to the Covid-19 pandemic: when the world navigated ways to live remotely, scammers followed suit and found a way to scam more effectively online. Researchers had to modify their data collection methodologies to reflect remote and online options during stay-at-home orders, and our industry adapted tremendously. However, increasing online research meant there were more opportunities for fraud.
In response to the growing incidence of data fraud, industry leaders and decision makers from leading brands gathered to create CASE (Collaborate, Advocate, Spearhead, Educate), with the goal of shining light on an issue that has been ignored in our industry for far too long. By providing brands with education, they’ll be better equipped to understand the concessions of time, cost, and quality when making decisions for their business, and deciding what research is appropriate and how to best design it, considering those variables. CASE conducted the first of its kind, ground-breaking research study on panel fraud, and results were shared during a webinar hosted by The Insights Association in spring of 2022 (available on-demand: Online Sample Fraud: Causes, Costs & Cures, February 11, 2022).
The key to successful research and data collection is having the right recruiting firm on your side. The recruiting firm must be able to share what they are doing to exclude fraudulent panelists from participating in research. Generally, you don’t need to know “how the sausage gets made”, however when it comes to panel validation practices that your recruiter has in place, you should ask questions and peek behind the curtain. Esomar published a paper in 2021 that has a list of 37 questions you can ask your recruiter to find out what they’re doing to validate their panel. While not all questions will apply to all firms or projects, it’s a solid start and should provide some foundational education on what to ask or how to ask questions specific to the research that you will be conducting. The goal isn’t to find a recruiter who can “check all the boxes”, but if they can speak coherently about their practices, and they are engaged and excited about the discussion, then you know they are implementing the processes necessary to mitigate data fraud. Your research partner should be taking a multi-faceted approach to their panel validation practices, using a combination of technological advancements and good old-fashioned human interaction.
L&E Research is renowned for three things: Nationwide recruiting, advanced technology, and industry leading client service. These skills are key to securing validated recruits who will contribute quality data for your research. We have over 35 years of qualitative recruitment experience, with the majority of recruiting focused on in-person research, so validating identity is not new for Team L&E. When we expanded our reach to accommodate remote, nationwide recruitment to better serve our client’s needs, we applied our tested respondent validation practices to a broader audience, so that we could continue to provide the same level quality participants for which we’re known. Online screening is convenient to both the panelist and our recruiting team, but this could invite fraud if the human element is removed, so at L&E Research, all recruits are confirmed with a phone call, conducted by a real human being. When participating in research at an L&E facility or L&E’s Virtual Facility, a government identification is required. Our advanced technology solutions allow us to track which panelists have been ID and human validated, providing us with an accurate gauge on the health and quality of our 1+ million-member panel. As scammers are agile and adaptable, we too needed to modify our practices to cast a wider net on excluding scammers from not only participating in research, but from registering as a member of our respondent pool. Using a combination of geolocation routing and IP address tracking, we can exclude the majority of bots and click farms from gaining access to our member portal. Our technology provides us with the flexibility to only share project invitations with those who would potentially qualify, based on the 100+ data points we collect and track; this reduces the volume of “cheaters” who would falsify their responses just to get into a study. We pride ourselves on our client service, but the same high-quality level of service is extended to our members in all levels of communication. We know clear and concise communication makes the difference in the amount of effort, and therefore quality and depth of feedback, that a respondent will put into the task at hand. In those communications we include “anti-fraud” messaging, such as letting participants know that photo identification will be checked, and that rescreening calls will be conducted to confirm their responses haven’t changed. We know our process is effective; we also know that we must stay agile and stay diligent to adapt to a changing landscape.
Combatting fraud within our industry will take involvement from everyone: brands, agencies, consultants, and sample suppliers. Because instances of fraud can wildly vary, the solution must be a collaborative effort, with dedication from all involved parties and open lines of communication. It isn’t enough to attempt to combat fraud at the project level; if we want to continue to provide relevant insights, we must be willing to share best practices with our clients AND our competitors, so that data quality in the entire research ecosystem will improve. With some accountability and creativity, recruitment providers can put processes into place to reduce bad data.
This post is based on a webinar, Stop Sabotaging Your Research! Why respondent quality matters and how to ensure data integrity. It’s available as part of our on-demand webinars series.
Be on the lookout for our next webinar, which will be in October 2022. If you can’t wait until then, view our on-demand webinars. Don’t forget to join our mailing list so you can keep up with what is happening at L&E!