Cheating Online Surveys

Published: 30th June 2006
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Warning: The following activities will result in being banned from a survey panel if caught engaging in them. They are dishonest techniques that I list here to ensure that you do not carry them out, perchance to shut yourself off from an income stream indefinitely.
Humans have the innate desire to ensure their own well-being. However, cheating is the result of satisfying this instinct with no thought to personal integrity or social repercussions. If you take online surveys, do not cheat, as it leads to inaccurate survey findings and, plausibly, flawed end-products. The following methods of cheating have been compiled over the years from other survey panelists experience. If it is not at all clear, I do not advocate the use of any of the following techniques for cheating surveys and making more money:

  1. Falsifying Background Info - When you sign up for a paid online survey panel, you will be asked to fill out information about yourself. Most online surveys are targeted to members of certain demographics, so these questionnaires are used to ensure that surveys reach the "right" people. However, one trick I have heard of people using is to make yourself out to belong to a sort of universal demographic by clicking every checkbox, i.e. you are interested in everything, do every activity, represent every ethnic background and economic class, and so on. As a result, you will receive a disproportionately large number of surveys, since you fit every demographic possible! This is a dishonest way of maximizing income and, if discovered engaging in this practice, you will most likely be banned from the panel.

  2. Manipulating Screeners - Forcing Entry - If you read my previous article, How to Avoid Getting Screened Out of Surveys, then you already know that the screener questions determine whether you continue on in the survey or not and, as a result, whether or not you get paid. By manipulating the screeners, you can sneak your way into a survey by picking up on the textual clues. To reuse an example, you might tell the survey that you are in college when you are not, because the survey will most likely be aimed at college students. Another example is telling the survey that you don't work in the advertising industry when you actually do. In other words, if you have gotten screened out by answering a question a certain way (or know that you will get screened out) and use that to your advantage, you are manipulating screeners and cheating.

  3. Manipulating Screeners - Feining Expertise - Some survey companies, such as NFO MySurvey, pay you more based on how well you fit the target demographic for a particular survey. So, yet another way to manipulate screeners is to say that (in a do-it-yourself survey) you perform do-it-yourself work on your house almost every day and shop at every single hardware store listed in the survey. This effectively makes you appear to be a do-it-yourself maven or expert, meaning that your opinion is worth more (or the most) and your payout will be higher. Again, you are manipulating the screener to your advantage.

  4. Clicking Random Radio Buttons and/or Checkboxes - When faced with a long survey, some panelists I have talked to said that they click random radio buttons and checkboxes in order to reach the end quicker and thus get paid faster (many of these same panelists employed the previous two screener manipulation tactics to get into the survey in the first place). This, again, leads to inaccurate results for the survey companies and, in the end, the firms that hire them to collect data. Firms then launch inefficient ad campaigns, lose revenue, and hire the survey companies less frequently. When that happens, payouts for survey panelists--cheater or not--goes down. While this may sound like a slippery slope argument, cheating actually has greater repercussions than many realize.

  5. Withholding Information - This does not sound bad, but if you are presented with a list of things and the question "how many of the following have you heard of/tried/seen?" then you ought to mark all of the appropriate choices. Some cheating panelists mark one, a few, or none at all when in actuality they should mark many more. The impetus for this action is clear: they want to save time on the survey taking and get paid quicker. Many cheating panelists who do this belong to several online survey panels and feel compelled to address all the survey invitations in their inbox. While doing so provides a nice rush, it is still cheating.

You might have been expecting more cheat tactics, but these are the biggest ones. They can help you get into surveys you maybe should be taking, get through it thoughtlessly fast, and get paid more than you deserve. It's up to you to decide whether you want to maximize your earnings in the aforementioned ways. But, don't say I didn't warn you.

Anthony Serrano is the webmaster @ The Paid Online Survey Center (

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