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Fraud Detection: Online Survey Scams and How To Spot Them

July 24, 2020

When you’re on the hunt to make money, it’s tempting to spend a few minutes filling out an online survey that promises you a sweet monetary reward. But before you click, are you sure that survey is legit?

Fraudulent online surveys hurt not only consumers but brands, too. Here’s what you need to know.

Fraud Detection - Online Survey Scams

To entice users to click, online survey companies typically rely on clickbait like “Win an Amazon Giftcard” by filling out this survey. Fraudsters employ the same tactic; however, their intentions are malicious.

Scammers use online surveys to scrape sensitive personal or financial information. They’ll then take that info and use it to commit identity theft, or sell the data to a third party. Either way, they’re making money. Meanwhile your data has been compromised and you don’t even have a prize to show for it.

To gain users’ trust, fraudsters use different survey scamming tricks which include:  

Impersonating Legitimate Companies. Just because you get an online survey from a company like Walmart, doesn’t mean that survey is actually from Walmart. It can be a fraudster impersonating a legitimate company, which has happened to SurveyMonkey. As a result, now SurveyMonkey has a section on their site warning their customers to be aware of online survey scams from fraudsters claiming to be sponsored by SurveyMonkey.

Using Phishing Surveys. To gather sensitive info, scammers will target individuals with phishing surveys. These surveys can appear as display ads on websites and in social news feeds. Once you click and begin to fill out the survey, you’ll notice the form requires your username, social security number, credit card details, and passwords. These required fields are red flags that you’re dealing with a phishing survey. Remember, a legitimate survey will never ask you for sensitive information.  

fraud detection - online survey scams - macbook

Sending Email Scams. It’s hard to keep track of every mailing list you’ve signed up for (e.g. retail, political, entertainment). So, when you see a survey appear in your email that falls in line with your interests, you may be ready to click, but don’t! Unless you can positively confirm that you’ve opted into that survey contact list, it’s likely malicious intent.

Once you click, you open the door for malware to be installed on your computer or mobile device. Now the scammer can skim your banking information, passwords, and more. Once the fraudsters have your info, you’re at risk for identity theft. And that’s just the consumer fallout.

For brands, fraudsters who sell that scraped data and sell it to third parties now put companies who utilize that data at risk for violating TCPA compliance.

Conducting Conversion or Lead Fraud. If you’re a company who is running a real survey using form fill-outs, you, too, are prey for fraudsters. Form fill-outs are no longer safe from fraud. Fraudsters can use sophisticated software to fill out forms and make it look like real customers are taking your survey. Now your company’s survey results are skewed because instead of real users filling out your forms, you’re getting nothing but fraud.

Safeguarding Tips

For companies, utilizing an ad fraud detection solution to determine if real users are filling out your online surveys will add a strong layer of protection against conversion/lead fraud. Meanwhile for individuals, fraudsters aren’t perfect and leave clues behind that indicate fraud is afoot. Some are obvious, like making you pay for the survey, while others are more subtle.

For example, if a survey wants to pre-qualify you for an hour that’s a red flag. It’s their way of getting all of your info and leaving you with a “Sorry, you don’t qualify.”

Another clue that the survey doesn’t have your best interests in mind: no privacy policy. How do you know if your data will be protected? You don’t. This also falls in line with signing up for a survey site and unknowingly giving them permission to sell your contact information to third parties. Before signing up for anything, always read the privacy policy and the terms and conditions. If neither are available, ditch the survey.

Also make sure if you are emailed a survey link to hover over the link before clicking. Carefully look at the URL. The fraudsters may employ domain spoofing, making it appear that the URL is a valid site when it isn’t. In this example below, they spoof Mozilla simply by replacing the letter ‘i.’  

Domain Spoofing - fraud detection - online survey scams

While online survey scams and ad fraud detection isn’t always easy to navigate, there are signs to look for. By taking a moment to pause and do your homework you can avoid potential scams and keep your data (and brand) safe

Get a broader understanding of ad fraud in general and refer to Anura's free resource, the Ad Fraud Detection eBook.

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