Online Voting Contests and Fraud:
What Can Be Done?

Online voting contests are a hugely effective digital marketing strategy.  Ninety-eight percent of consumers who participate in an online voting contest share their participation to get votes. 46 percent of users who vote then convert to followers of the brand, according to research by Easypromos.

However, with high-stakes prizes often ranging from hot event tickets to the latest top-selling tech gadgets and even modeling contracts, the contests can also be a target for fraudsters (who often use fake or stolen Facebook accounts) looking for an easy win or to turn a quick profit. These actions can seriously impact a brand’s or company’s relationship with audiences as it looks to connect, convert and extend audience reach.

One of the ways of countering this online voting contest fraud is through the launch of a new fraud index for voting contests. This index was created through a three-month, undercover study into the world of vote selling. This ‘Easypromos Fraud Index‘ is a proprietary tool based on a unique algorithm that measures the likelihood that bad voting practices took place during an online voting contest, such as vote buying or votes cast by false or stolen Facebook accounts.

The index is based on findings of a three-month study into fraudulent practices by Easypromos in answer to a continued stream of complaints by contest administrators. These complaints suggest that standard industry fraud controls were not going far enough.

While participation in online contests can require that participants register by using a validated email address, the vast majority of voting contest apps offer the option to participate through a Facebook account. With an estimated 170 million fake Facebook accounts online, according to a Huffington Post article from May of last year, vote sellers have a great opportunity to utilize these, particularly if fraud detection measures are not implemented.

“Voting contests are a proven, effective digital marketing strategy for brands to increase page views, build reach and convert followers to participants. Ninety-eight percent of people who participate in a voting contest share their participation to get votes, and 46 percent of users who vote convert to followers of the brand,” said Carles Bonfill, co-Founder and CEO of Easypromos. “Therefore, when we continued to hear concerns from our clients that some votes being cast seemed suspicious, such as initiating in different countries, or surging over a short amount of time, we suspected that greater controls were necessary.”

How the fraud index was created

In January, 2016, Easypromos went undercover and launched a fake voting contest, hiring a freelancer to pose as a contest participant seeking a way to buy votes in order to win. Watching and learning the behavior of fraudulent voting behind the scenes, Easypromos identified numerous patterns in behavior which it used to build an alert-based algorithm offering administrators a probability that a participant´s votes were obtained in a fraudulent way. The results of this formula are expressed as a percentage between 0 to 100%. A value equal or greater than 100% is considered to be a positive indication that fraudulent activity has taken place.

The Fraud Index has been in beta since February, evaluating all new voting contests and preventing votes from participants with percentages on the Index beyond 100. To date, Easypromos has seen the number of fraud complaints by contest administrators reduce from an average of three a week to two in four months.

“There are people around the world who are dedicating themselves to identifying new ways to commit fraud for relatively little money every day. Measures and filters must be updated continuously. What was working six months ago isn’t working today. We need to have smarter, more adaptive and agile tools,” continued Mr. Bonfill.

The Fraud Index’s anti-fraud control system measures 11 different security controls such as probability of false or suspicious accounts, handling IPs, frequency of votes and more. When someone votes on an Easypromos supported voting contest, the algorithm evaluates the vote against all security checkpoints. If it is unable to pass controls, the vote is not counted. The voter will receive a message on screen with the specific reason why their vote has not been recorded. The alert is then recorded and available to the administrator via the private administration panel, where the list of all registered security alarms for that contest participant can be viewed.

“It is critical that digital promotions platforms protect the image of their client’s business or brand,” continued Mr. Bonfill. “While voting contests are highly effective in extending reach through sharing, they can also attract fraudulent practices as participants battle head-to-head for high-stakes prizes. Through our Fraud Index, we are offering greater visibility into voting practices, and a much needed safety net for administrators in choosing a winner.”

Easypromos recommends voting contest administrators to utilize those platforms which have strict fraud controls and note in a contest´s terms and conditions that all contest participants´ votes will be subject to review. Those that are considered to have participated in fraudulent voting activity can be disqualified by the administrator from the contest. The company also cautions against using standard social network features such as likes, reactions, favorites or retweets as voting mechanisms as these were designed for users to express feelings for a post and are not supported by antifraud systems. For more information and tips on fraud prevention, consult this infographic.

Easypromos is a global leader in social media promotions.