...and what we can do to filter out the frauds
I‘ve been recruiting participants for the market research industry for over 17 years and during that time, many things have drastically changed. But one thing that hasn’t is the problem with people taking part in too many research studies or simply lying in order to take part – the people we refer to within the industry as ‘groupies and fraudulent respondents’.
So what are groupies and how do they differ from fraudulent respondents?
Groupies are market research respondents who are often on multiple recruiters’ databases and take part in market research on a regular basis. A recent Google search about groupies reveals one company that defines a groupie as ‘a professional market research participant who creates multiple profiles with different details.’ However, I wouldn’t class this type of person as a groupie, but instead as a fraudulent respondent, and there is a definitely a difference. Whereas groupies use their own details but don’t declare the frequency of their involvement in research projects, fraudulent respondent will use various different names, email addresses and job descriptions to make themselves fit the criteria for a market research.
So, for example, one week that person might be an IT Director and the next week, a Finance Controller. I know of one particular fraudulent respondent who uses over 30 different names with different mobile numbers, job titles and addresses, and participants have even been known to wear wigs and disguises to try to fool the recruiters and moderators!
In line with our industry best practice, most recruitment companies specify that applicants should not have taken part in any other research within the previous six-month period, although this can vary depending on the topics of a research and at the discretion of the client. Even though they may not be declaring their previous involvements, groupies and fraudulent respondents will usually be taking part much more frequently than that and can, of course, earn significantly more by way of incentives as a result.
What difference has technology made?
The advent of online applications and digital data storage has created more of a problem trying not to recruit groupies or fraudulent respondents, because it is now far easier for applicants to register with lots of different recruiters and this could be further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as lots of people look for additional sources of income whilst furloughed or even threatened with redundancy.
We have been using technology to track these (and other metrics) for over 5 years, and even though they are never chosen, some people relentlessly continue to apply for studies. Some recruiters just do not have the ability to monitor this, and are inevitably caught by these unscrupulous operators.
What can we do about it?
When you ask a respondent when they last did a market research, they will generally tell you that it was over 6 months ago, and we take their word for it. But, of course, the reality is that they are just playing the system, and whichever category they fall into, often they will have done one more recently.
If clients suspect that the research participants we recruit are declining in quality, they will look elsewhere. But if the industry as a whole is perceived to be lackadaisical in its recruitment procedures, the credibility of the conclusions that we and our clients reach could be diminished.
So what is the solution? After much consideration, my conclusion is that there are potentially three things we can do to alleviate the problem.
- Pay people via BACS
Whilst this is not a solution in itself, it could make it more difficult for responders to beat the system.
- Make it clear that they could be rejected (and not paid) if found out
Again, this is adding another layer of security; I’m sure a ‘serial offender’ may be more reluctant to travel to a focus group if there was the threat of them being rejected (and subsequently blacklisted) without receiving their incentive.
- Biometric identification
Whilst this is not yet viable, I believe it won’t be long before we are able to use iris scanning – as used in airports and hospitals – for (almost) foolproof identification.
This still relies on some kind of central database in order to eradicate the groupies, but it would at least rid us of the fraudulent responders.
By doing all this, we could significantly improve the quality of market research participants, and ensure that we maintain the trust of our clients and stakeholders.
If there are solutions, why would we be so reluctant to implement them?
In many cases, the answer is money, and it’s a cost our clients are usually unwilling to pay; it seems more trouble than it is worth to introduce such strict measures, and it will make life more difficult and push up costs for everyone.
So in the end, we have to decide whether the groupies and fraudulent respondents can continue to erode our reputations, or whether we have to step up and take some positive steps to reinforce our credentials.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I’d love to hear your views…