With the rise of cloud technology and connectivity through APIs, the market research industry became democratized. Before the technology-induced changes, only a few market companies giants ruled the market.

That time has ended in the early 2010s.

It has never been easier to collect responses from people happy to fill out surveys for a few cents and sell those responses to so-called research companies who will eventually resell that data to end customers as market research.

Response fraud is a form of cybercrime and a constant nuisance for the steadily growing online portion of market research. Fraudsters participate in online surveys to get the monetary incentive offered for their time without providing genuine answers.

How big is the problem?

In 2015, the ratio of fraudulent data has been estimated between 5% to 10%. In 2021, it reached 35 to 65%.

When doing market research with an online survey solution like Google Surveys, SurveySparrow, or SurveyMonkey Audience, the source of your responses is questionable at best. Despite their best efforts to maintain data quality, these companies have little to no control over what kind of people or bots fill out their surveys.

Market research is a big business with a well-built ecosystem. Students and jobless people from villages in developing countries, scammers, and even bot programmers make a living out of filling out surveys, with absolutely no concern if their answer is relevant for the research.

Online sample providers are fighting these fraudsters with sophisticated security tools and spend significant effort on identifying and filtering sham respondents. The fraudsters in turn undermine providers’ filters with some simple tricks, helped by lots of websites with tips on how to “make easy money” with surveys.

Common market research frauds

They create multiple fake profiles bypassing verification with IDs printed on paper – then use autofill apps and survey click bots to speed up their productivity for maximum payouts.

Companies like SurveyYeah, SurveyJunkie, Google Opinion Rewards, and similar respondent networks not only generate responses for their survey clients. They also produce responses to be sold on various data exchange marketplaces.

Market research companies who deal directly with clients often use such vendors to source response data, with minimal quality control. Depending on the industry, 35% to 65% of market research respondents are either unqualified or fraudulent.

If this is not shocking enough, some data vendors add random data to their responses. They do it by performing basic statistical calculations on a small but genuine data set, then generate large quantities of random data with similar regression and statistical attributes.

These are just some facts from the world of online market research and response data exchange businesses. Companies that do market research need to be extremely careful where they get their responses from. In many cases, the distribution chain is so complex that not even the market research company can track the original source of responses.

How much does market research fraud cost for companies?

It is difficult to estimate the direct and indirect damage caused by response fraud. Direct damage is the cash cost of fake respondents and all research projects with invalid results. Indirect damages arise when research clients are misguided in their business decisions through bogus results and insights. It is easy to see that the resulting dollar number is enormous.

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