Fraud in Voting Contests
Fighting fraud in voting contests has become a priority in Easypromos, in fact, it’s sort of an obsession of ours. We simply cannot tolerate fraudsters taking advantage of a brand’s goodwill when organizing an online contest.
The facts are well known: a brand launches an online voting contest where the participant with the most votes wins the prize. Initially, everything goes on normally, but as the voting deadline approaches, the vote count for a couple of participants skyrockets, leading to complaints and doubts about the legality of votes, participants, and the contest itself. And who is affected the most? All users who participated legitimately, but above all the brand, which is left helpless in this situation, suffers reputational damage and faces an unwanted reputation crisis.
At Easypromos, we consider this scenario intolerable, and as a contest management tool, we have a lot to say about it.
That’s why, since 2013, we dove into this issue and began investigating what fraudsters did to obtain large quantities of votes so quickly. We knew these were fraudulent votes, but if we were to combat them, we needed to understand their modus operandi first.
And so, we did.
We purchased votes online, delved into forums and websites dedicated to vote exchange, entered the world of WhatsApp vote groups, educated ourselves on vote automation tools, and much more.
What we learned is that some of these vote-acquisition techniques are sophisticated, but most are not. What we truly learned is that users with ill intentions are persistent. When they can’t secure a vote through one method, they will try through another.
Therefore, to fight fraud in online voting contests, there’s a need for preventive measures, a team continuously learning and updating these measures, and of course, reactive measures in case someone manages to bypass preventive measures. Throughout years of experience managing incentive promotions, we have designed and continuously (if not obsessively) kept an integrated fraud control system that detects and blocks the most common malicious practices. This system includes real-time user and participant analysis tools throughout the contest duration.
Why are online Voting Contests so popular?
Voting contests are interactive dynamics widely used by brands due to their multiple benefits:
- Winner selection relies on users’ votes, giving it a transparent and democratic feel.
- It drives the promotion’s virality, as participants share their contributions to collect votes.
- 98% of participants actively share their participation to gather more votes.
- 46% of voters become followers of the organizing brands.
- Contest page views increase, resulting in greater brand visibility.
- In some countries like Spain, if the winner selection isn’t random, the 10% tax on the prize isn’t applied.
In a voting contest, the primary goal of those resorting to fraud is to position themselves as the most voted participant. To achieve this, they engage in several illicit actions to obtain the maximum number of votes. The main identified fraudulent practices include:
- Buying votes in forums and platforms dedicated to this fraudulent action.
- Participating with fake identities or impersonating others.
- Identifying as voters using fake emails or phone numbers.
- Using stolen or acquired accounts.
- Employing programs or bot systems to automate or semi-automate the voting process.
- Using IP masking to bypass device-based voting limits.
Read on to learn about the measures that Easypromos has implemented to combat fraud.
Preventive measures to avoid fraudulent votes
The Easypromos fraud prevention and security system is constantly working to ensure that participants in the promotion are genuine. To achieve this, it implements a series of measures in the identification and registration process for both participants and voters, thus neutralizing all these malicious practices. The most notable ones are:
- Email verification. These measures consist of effective management of email aliases in services like Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo, detection and blocking of temporary emails, real-time verification of mail servers, email verification, and more.
- Mobile phone registration. Uses double-factor authentication via SMS. Additionally, Easypromos maintains a database of temporary numbers to prevent their use for registration and prize acquisition.
- IP address control. Designed to deal with the manipulation of IP addresses by fraudulent participants. Easypromos maintains a global database of malicious IPs, VPNs, and Proxies and offers tools such as country restriction through IP geolocation.
- Anti-bot system. This includes using systems like reCAPTCHA, CSFR tokens, control of parameter masking, and more.
- Security level indicators. Easypromos includes a tool that alerts and notifies the contest organizer if their configuration is not secure against fraudulent votes. We’ve learned that sometimes the problem lies in poorly configured contests.
Take a look at the Easypromos fraud control system to explore all the tools and measures available on the platform.
Managing fraud in an ongoing contest
In addition to preventive measures, having reactive measures is essential. Even if we set up many barriers, users with malicious intent will look for any means or technology to abuse the system. That’s why our security system is not static; it’s a living system that continuously analyzes and learns from users.
There are two means to achieve this:
- The Easypromos specialized human security team: Our team continuously analyzes user activity, proactively blocks unauthorized accesses, updates databases of malicious IPs and emails, and ensures the integrity of the security system.
- Contest Security Center: It consists of a set of tools and indicators that help the contest organizer monitor all activities, analyze fraudulent patterns, and apply necessary blocking actions.
At the Security Center in the control panel, you can review the promotion’s security level, examine security-related events, analyze participant IP addresses, and scrutinize email domains.
If you identify fraudulent votes with these tools, you have mechanisms to block and disqualify participants. Additionally, you can add them to your blacklist to prevent their participation in future campaigns. Check the fraud control system tutorial for more specific information on these options.
We also recommend reading the Guide on legal measures to prevent fraud in online promotions. This guide helps in incorporating fraud management and user disqualification into your legal terms.
Practical tips to avoid fraud in voting contests
Technical measures are necessary to manage any online voting contest, but it’s also important to keep the following practical tips in mind when organizing it. Sticking to these suggestions can avoid conflicts and save you management time. Sometimes, the setup of the contest can itself lead to more or less fraudulent activity.
Carefully read and apply these tips to your contests:
- Use a specialized voting system: Avoid using social media functionalities like Likes, Follows, or RT as a voting mechanism since they aren’t designed to function as voting systems and are, therefore, prone to fraud.
- Don’t reward the most voted user directly: When the prize is automatically awarded to the participant with the most votes, the risk of fraudulent actions increases. It’s better to select the final winner through a draw among all participants who have reached a minimum number of votes. Alternatively, a jury could pick the winner from among participants who have received a minimum number of votes.
- Enable two-factor authentication: If users need to register with their email to vote, send a confirmation email to verify the vote and email. Similarly, if users identify with a phone number to vote, validate the authenticity and ownership of the number by sending a verification SMS.
- Enable geographical restrictions: Restrict the access to your contest to the country or countries where it takes place. This will prevent international vote exchange fraud, international vote buying, and using systems to alter or mask IP addresses.
- Offer a dual prize: Award one prize to the most voted user and another through a draw among all participants. This motivates users to viralize the contest to get votes and encourages participation, even if obtaining votes isn’t as easy.
- Hide the vote counter during the contest: This practice adds excitement and prevents participants from solely focusing on the number of votes.
- Avoid disqualifying a user during the voting period: Refrain from premature disqualifications, as disqualified users might react negatively, leading to sabotage actions. It’s preferable to disqualify participants at the end of the contest.
- Include legal measures against fraud in your terms: Inform that vote validity will be checked using the Easypromos anti-fraud tools. This gives you the right to disqualify participants and nullify their participation. Learn more in our guide on legal measures against fraud.
- Don’t automatically believe user reports: Some reports might be false. Prepare a generic response thanking the user for the report and indicating that participation validity will be evaluated at the contest’s end using the Easypromos anti-fraud tools.
There’s no ultimate and infalible fraud control: The fight against bad practices must be constant, analyzing current contests and user behavior to adapt to new malicious practices.
At Easypromos, we are fully aware of this and have considered it when designing and updating our comprehensive anti-fraud system.