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A third of online customer data is fake

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Most senior marketers acknowledge how important customer data is to their future prospects – with almost two-thirds strongly agreeing that data-driven marketing is crucial to success, according to research published by Forbes Insights.

However, a new study indicates that these efforts could be built on foundations made of sand.

With an increasing numbers of organisations demand personal data in exchange for free content or deals internet users are responding by using fake names, made up email addresses and bogus telephone numbers to ensure they are not contacted in the future.

In a finding that undermines business efforts to be more data-driven, it is estimated that up to a third of online customer data could be fake as internet users submit false information to filter out marketing.

The study of 1,000 individuals by data specialists, Wilmington Millennium, found that 23% of internet users regularly provide organisations with false information about themselves in order to curb any follow up marketing activity. This rises to almost one in three (32%) amongst people that use the internet in a business-to-business capacity.

This raises the alarming prospect that up to a third of customer data captured via web forms and stored in customer databases could be fake.

The most common practices were found to be:

  1. Providing a dummy account - a live email address that has been set up purely for signing up to organisations of little interest.
  2. Giving the name of a friend, family member or colleague along with a made up email address relating to that name.
  3. Using the name of a famous person and a made up email address relating to that name e.g.
  4. Making up a name and email address.
  5. Deliberately misspelling an actual email address e.g.
  6. Changing one or two digits of the actual telephone number.
  7. Making up a telephone number.
  8. Altering the postal address e.g. house number or street name.
  9. Making up a postal address.

The study revealed that internet users were most likely to provide a dummy address or fake name and email address, while postal addresses were the least likely to be falsified with only 3% admitting to purposefully providing incorrect postal information.

Elsewhere, the most at risk sectors were revealed to be business to business organisations, media companies (e.g. newspapers, magazines, streaming services), voucher sites, travel companies, comparison sites, data providers (such as house price aggregators) and retailers. Financial services, government and charities were the least affected sectors.

“The bad news is that organisations are spending money on storing, maintaining and processing fake data,” adds Karen Pritchard, product director at Wilmington Millennium. “The worse news is that the amount of fake data being captured online is likely to increase following the introduction of GDPR once the opt-in clause comes into force.”