During the research phase, different participants are interviewed based on the personas or user profiles. Sometimes, the participants are sent by some of the agencies.

Some of the FAKE participants may get through the initial screening phase, in such cases, what is the best way to identify the fake participants during the interview?

Have you faced any similar issue during your interviews, if yes, how did identify the fake participant and what was the next step?

  • You can use deception to avoid priming biases and non-respondant biases and to avoid getting unrepresentative cohorts. Where you recruit also matters. In unis there are pools of "profesionnal" participants who are going to be more inquisitive, motivated and patient than your average off-the-street participant. You're essentially trading cost of running the study vs. quality of data depending on the amount of information you reveal and the readiness the potential participants groups to which you advertise. Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 22:55

2 Answers 2


Generally the agencies that recruit on your behalf would rely on you to provide the criteria for selecting/screening participants, so the onus is really to make sure that you provide tasks that will allow the agencies to clearly distinguish real vs. fake customers/users.

That is not to say a fake user can't give you the same type of information that a user who is new or not familiar with your product or service, so perhaps it is not so important to make a clear distinction if your research is more explorative and the product is new.

Assuming that you have a good relationship with customers and maintain an up-to-date CRM, the participants should be drawn from it and then you wouldn't have this issue. Back let's say this isn't the case, then coming back to the question, the broad strategies that can be used would fall into the following categories:

A. Create a baseline for their knowledge and familiarity - if you are testing a new task or feature of the system, perhaps test their knowledge of the existing system. If they are a 'fake' customer or user then their level would be quite low (but perhaps put in a question about the frequency of their usage as a second check). This way you can then come back and eliminate responses for participants with the most suspicious scores if their responses are a bit difficult to interpret.

B. Use very specific terminology that are common for the customers of that company/product/service. If the participants don't understand or ask for clarification then there's a good chance that they are not actual customers.

C. Ask them about things that are known customer complaints, issues or pain points and their feelings/opinions about it. If they don't have any strong opinions or feelings (and their rating of the user experience or customer satisfaction doesn't match) then it should raise a flag for checking the authenticity of their status as a customer.

As for next steps, I would generally flag those participants and evaluate the rest of the responses first. If you have the numbers and significant results then you can discard those participants and don't worry about it. If you have low numbers and need to use or incorporate those data points/answers (perhaps look at changing your process for recruitment and testing first), then try to rank them on the likelihood of the participant not being a genuine customer and report this in your results. It is possible to try and verify their customer identity but it shouldn't normally be part of the process after you do the testing (it should be done before if you really want to).


I think you would generally be able to wean out the fake from the real at this stage just by talking about UX. If something sounds really fishy then it probably is. Ask them UX specific questions such:

  • their experience of working with development teams
  • how they have successfully integrated UX
  • what does success look like
  • the sort of deliverables they would expect to have
  • how they would work closely with others to translate ux work into something that can be worked with
  • ask them to perform a ux exercise for you

If they can answer all of those then they're probably fine, but if you still aren't sure ask to see some work that they have done (or ask them to do a design/research exercise without it sounding like you want free ideas/work) as well as references. Ultimately this is always going to be a difficult one.

  • Thank you and I'm sorry if the question misguided you, basically, I'm talking about the participants (users) and during the interviews we try to understand the users and their behavior. Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 11:34

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