Podcast: Lisa Wilding Brown talks about fraud in market research

Lisa Wilding-Brown, Chief Executive Officer at InnovateMR joined us to talk about fraud's persistent presence in the market research industry and some best practices for fighting it.

We were joined recently on our podcast by Lisa Wilding-Brown, Chief Executive Officer at InnovateMR and one of the market research industry’s top minds on data quality. Lisa has been in the industry for nearly 20 years, working in a range of positions and sectors, fueling her passion for building strong relationships and fulfilling a relentless mission to drive innovation and efficiency. She is a founding member of the Multicultural Insights Collective, an inaugural member of the Insights Association’s Laureate Program, nominated Insights Top 250 industry leader list, a recipient of the Global Research Business Network’s Participant Excellence Program, an MRS Research Hero, a contributor of WIRexec, and an elected member of the ESOMAR Global Council 2021-2023. 

During our discussion, she focused on the important, ever-evolving issues of data quality and the need for reliable insights. Even though this issue has grown and changed over time, it remains fundamentally the same: there will always be fraudsters looking to cash out on survey incentives. Lisa says there is no way for any one company to completely solve this issue and eliminate fraud, but there are ways to be more proactive in catching these nefarious users. We need to stop telling ourselves that there is a magic fix or silver bullet when it comes to market research fraud. 

Fraud is complex and dynamic, and the tactics leveraged by cyberfraudsters continue to morph and change creating a very reactionary position for the insights industry. According to Accenture, 68% of businesses today feel that their cyber security is at risk on multiple fronts and this is expected to rise in future years as fraudsters become increasingly sophisticated. She talks a bit about how to identify fraud, and how it is becoming more difficult to do so through our traditional red flags. Bots are better at emulating real human behavior than they used to be.  

Other industries are also impacted by cyberfraud, costing trillions of dollars every year, so market research is not alone in the fight. Lisa says that the disruption of the pandemic also provided opportunity for fraudsters to dig in, and that the “ industry is still experiencing significant fraud having stabilized at 10-12% over the last 6 months.” We aren’t able to catch everything due to the volume and advanced fraud innovation hitting our sector, so we have to be innovative, dynamic and unpredictable in our fraud mitigation tactics, just as the fraudsters are in their own behaviors. 

Lisa runs us through a few examples of how nefarious survey takers are changing their approach and circumventing traditional mitigation techniques. She also talks about just how easy it is to become a fraudster by leveraging existing tools and technology, allowing them to blend in and stay under the radar, even with no advanced degrees or expertise. “My big takeaway is that the DNA of fraud is changing, just like there are new strains and variants of the pandemic we are facing, there are new permutations of fraud for us to be mindful of.”

Fraud doesn’t actually originate in our industry, but usually starts further upstream in the AdTech space where all suppliers source participant traffic. List shares some of her insights about the journey that fraudsters take to infiltrate surveys, based on her years of close study of the issue. She says that because of this typical journey, a lot of burden is placed on sample buyers to tackle it and that they should “be open and transparent and implement multiple layers that change dynamically to filter out these bad actors.” While these bad actors can’t be eradicated, they can be minimized.  

Lisa covers some best practices for researchers to get ahead of fraud innovations, both from a tactical and strategic standpoint in order to produce higher quality results. She says:

“First off, remember that assumptions are dangerous. There will always be dissonance in data. It is critical to scrutinize your data closely and work with partners that are transparent and open about the challenges facing our industry. We must always level-set expectations. We need to stop looking for a cure that doesn’t exist and instead focus on building a better mousetrap that leverages a multitude of both technological and methodological strategies. Relying on a single approach is truly a recipe for disaster.

Next, remember that fraudsters study our ecosystem closely, they prey on predictability. Changing our tactics is key to keeping the fraudsters on their toes.

Also, remember, every sample supplier has been hit with fraudulent participants at some point in their tenure. No one is impervious, but there are some who are more proactive than others so it is important to ask the tough questions and work with partners who will give you a transparent view when things go off track.

And last but not least, it is important to recognize and accept that quality really exists at the participant level. There are good and bad users in every source online. There is no such thing as perfect and there is certainly no silver bullet. BUT… we can do so much better!”

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