What is Survey Fraud? How Do You Spot It?

Data tells us that 10% of the surveys we receive contain dishonest or false information. Not all customers fill in surveys because they want to contribute to your study. Many survey takers insert useless data, turning legitimate surveys into time-wasting endeavors. One of the more popular methods for ruining this data is survey fraud. 

To learn more about survey fraud, how it is done, and how to spot it, check out our guide below. 

What is survey fraud?

Survey fraud includes all of the survey answers you receive that have fraudulent answers. These answers will skew your data, making it useless when taking action. In some cases, they come from survey takers who fill out this information in exchange for a reward. 

Regardless of why survey fraud occurs, activities such as this compromise the quality of any research data. There are three examples of survey fraud identified across studies:

  • Eligible participants taking a study multiple times on accident
  • Eligible participants taking a study multiple times to receive more rewards 
  • Ineligible participants taking a study to receive rewards. 

A fourth option comes from your competitors using the surveys to skew your data, making it worthless. Regardless of why people do it, it helps to understand how.

How is survey fraud done?

Survey fraud is often done on online surveys, as those are the easiest to exploit. Strategies for committing survey fraud include masking their IP address, creating multiple survey accounts, and disguising their location. 

Survey fraud is less likely to be done during in-person or telephone surveys, as it's more challenging to disguise yourself based on phone number or address. As a result, online surveys are where you will almost always find these violators. 

Scammers use powerful tools for online privacy to disguise where they come from. For example, anyone can download a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which hides their location and IP address with a single click. 

Knowing how survey fraud is done is only one aspect of spotting it. Below, we will go through different ways to spot survey fraud, which will help with prevention. 

How do you spot survey fraud?

If you want to spot survey fraud, there are a few ways to get started.


First, you'll note that people like to disguise themselves using a VPN (or other privacy software). Survey takers might not always think about the location they disguise themselves with. So, if the location the survey taker comes from is unusual, it's likely fraud. VPNs also tend to scramble your data into random chunks. So another sign would be to hire a tech specialist to perform a deep packet analysis, looking at the digital communications you receive from them. If the data looks like nonsense, it's

 likely coming from an obscured source. 

Of course, not everyone who uses internet privacy tools is automatically fraudulent.  

Non-location-based data for determining fraudulent surveys also might come from the time the survey taker takes per question. If the time is too short to produce a comprehensive enough answer, that's a sign someone is blasting through multiple surveys for rewards. 

Along those lines, paying close attention to the length of answers also helps. Single-word answers that provide very little information are a sign that someone's just in it for the reward. Multiple entries into a "$100 gift card" competition can be a strong motivator.  

An excellent tool for analyzing the validity of research data is the REAL Framework (Reflect, Expect, Analyze, and Label). This framework has you ask guiding questions to spot survey vulnerabilities by asking these four questions: 

  • Reflect - In what ways might your survey be vulnerable based on your planned recruitment and distribution practices?
  • Expect - What are the patterns you expect to see in data?
  • Analyze - How do you expect these patterns to relate to your data? 
  • Label - What level of suspicion is enough to exclude survey data? 

In applying these questions, you might find the delivery medium (online survey) is inherently weak. One way to overcome these weaknesses is by relying on voice-based surveys.

How voice systems can help you identify survey fraud

By leveraging the power of voice systems, you can overcome a lot of the weaknesses of gathering data in classic formats. One of the major weaknesses is the overcoming of survey fraud. 

In applying the REAL Framework, you get these advantages:

  • Reflect - Online surveys have high fraud rates, while voice-based surveys can use vocal data to overcome fraud. 
  • Expect - Voice-based systems are less likely to encourage the habit of "blasting through questions" with little thought because they aren't as anonymous.
  • Analyze - The result of less fraud and a more thoughtful response relates to getting more valuable data. 
  • Label - Identifying fraud based on vocal patterns is more straightforward and often handled by automated systems, making your exclusion decisions more obvious.

To find out how voice systems can help you get actionable data, contact True Reply today.

Wrap Up 

Survey fraud is a significant issue for companies that rely on online surveys. Despite how inexpensive and easy they are to develop, many survey takers don't answer these questions for your benefit. Often, they just want the prize. 

Spotting survey fraud can be done through deep packet data based on their location and their digital communication. However, the length of time and the length of their answers are both signs of fraud. 

Thankfully, applying the REAL Framework can help you overcome these weaknesses giving you a consistent answer to when to remove data. By using this framework, you can see that voice systems are an excellent way to overcome these limitations.