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I've been catfished, now what? A case study of identify fraud in online research.

Velo Higueras, Maria



Most research ethical guidelines acknowledge the central role of trust in the participant-researcher relationship. This has mainly been described unidirectionally, focusing on the impact of researcher's behaviours in building trust with participants, but what happens when the researcher is the one deceived? Individuals misrepresenting their eligibility to participate in online research poses new ethical challenges that researchers need to consider in their study design. The researcher's vulnerability to online fraud not only threatens the integrity of their data, but it can also harm the researcher's ability to build reciprocal trust with their participants. The objective of the study was to consider ethical issues related to eligibility fraud in research conducted online, using a case study to illustrate the discussion. The case study describes an example of eligibility fraud in a feminist interpretive description research exploring UK midwives' attitudes and experiences of freebirth. Social media was used for recruitment to maximise geographical and demographic reach across the UK. Participants submitted an expression of interest to the research team, that proceed to invite them to complete an online pre-interview survey before selecting participants for an online interview. At one of the initial interviews, the lead researcher raised suspicion of potential eligibility fraud. This incident prompted an amendment to ethics approval to verify participant's identity and confirm their eligibility. Of the 43 individual expressions of interest received, 12 could not be verified and therefore were identified as potentially fraudulent. Duplicate submissions, suspicious email patterns and inconsistent or incomplete information in the pre-interview survey were identified as red flags for fraudulent behaviour. Two external reviewers independently assessed an anonymised transcript of the suspected interview: the participant was deemed to be likely fraudulent, which led to the decision to exclude this interview from the study data. Conducting research on social media requires deliberate attention to online fraud detection and reporting. A "trust but verify" approach is recommended for future studies conducted online.  


VELO HIGUERAS, M. 2023. I've been catfished, now what? A case study of identify fraud in online research. Presented at the 2023 SNMPP (School of Nursing, Midwifery and Parademict Practice) Postgraduate research symposium, 25 May 2023, Aberdeen, UK.

Presentation Conference Type Lecture
Conference Name 2023 SNMPP (School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedic practice) Postgraduate research symposium
Conference Location Aberdeen, UK
Start Date May 25, 2023
Deposit Date May 28, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2023
Keywords Trust; Participant-research relationship; Online research; Ethical challenges; Fraud detection
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