Brand Protection & Social Media: Tackling Scams & Impersonation
 

Brand Protection & Social Media: Tackling Scams & Impersonation

Emerging threats • Online Counterfeiting • Social Media

Intellectual property infringement and brand abuse stretches far beyond counterfeiting. Brands now must contend with a rising tide of scams and fraud directed at their consumers on social media.

Social media cybercrime generates a staggering $3.25 billion for criminal networks annually[1]. And as social media usage continues to increase, scammers have sought new methods to exploit brands and consumers.

Businesses across all sectors need to adapt their brand protection strategies to safeguard consumers’ digital safety and trust on social media.

Read this piece to learn:

Part 1: The common types of social media scams and other infringement

Phishing and malware

  • More than 12% of phishing URL clicks were via social media[2]

Phishing scams are responsible for the theft of personal information and are therefore seriously damaging to brand reputation.

Phishing scams vary between platforms and territories. Scammers target the largest platforms to exploit global user bases. They often harness platforms’ advertising tools to target specific user demographics and users that ‘follow’ brand pages.

Phishing pages can attract very high numbers of followers. During a monitoring exercise on behalf of a leading brand, our experts uncovered a phishing page that attracted approximately 20,000 followers in just two days.

Phishing pages are normally connected to malware-ridden domains and require the user to share the page on their feed, attracting further victims. These digital footprints left by scammers are one of the ways in which Incopro discovers phishing pages.

Impersonation of brands by users

Impersonation accounts are used to misdirect consumers to websites selling unlicensed or counterfeit goods, which diverts revenue away from brands.

Diverting followers from the authorized accounts, where followers are used as one measure of success of marketing and social teams.

Impersonation accounts will often hijack trending hashtags and brands hashtags to reach a legitimate brand’s audience. It is an easy, cost-free method for scammers to hijack current trends, reach a wide audience, and lend an aura of authenticity.

Part 2: Examples of social media scams

Fake competitions exploiting COVID-19

Scammers have sought to exploit the pandemic, with many phishing scams targeting the food retail sector.

In one such case, scammers set up pages on social media platforms targeting UK consumers looking for savings from grocery chain Lidl. Appearing on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, the phishing scam encouraged consumers to complete a survey for their chance to win “£175 worth of free vouchers”[3].

Once consumers submitted their details, their personal data would be stolen and used to commit fraud. To increase the reach of the scam further, the scammers required users to share the link with 20 friends to be eligible for the “prize”.

Financial scams growing on social media

  • 43% of financial scams in April 2020 were initiated on social media (Barclay’s research, 2020)

Last year, social media platforms experienced a surge in online pension scams. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK has warned that scammers have become adept at promoting fake pension scams through Google, Facebook and other online channels.

 “We have seen a significant increase happening for two or three years but that has now sped up in the last 12 months”.

  • Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight at the FCA[4]

The FCA have pointed out that there is still no regulation of advertising on the internet, allowing scammers to operate with impunity.

And with increasing numbers of consumers using the internet to purchase financial services, scammers have started hatching elaborate schemes, such as fake investment comparison websites which direct to duplicate copies of legitimate websites[5].

Falsified medicines on the rise

The pandemic has fueled a rise in scammers using websites, e-commerce platforms, and social media accounts to offer falsified medicines to consumers.

With fear and disinformation around the pandemic rife, impersonation accounts have targeted misinformed and vulnerable consumers on social media to sell falsified medicines and promote unproven claims around treatments for COVID-19. 

According to the Medicine Maker, there are up to 35,000 websites selling falsified or unlicensed medicines[6].

Part 3: The impact of social media scams on consumers and brands

Without a technology solution, businesses only hear about the scams after the fact—alerted by affected victims, other business functions, or even senior management. By this point, it is already too late; the scams will have been shared thousands of times, with countless consumers exposed.

Consumers can have valuable personal data harvested and resold to scammers for further attacks on consumer digital safety and privacy.

Businesses often experience an increase in calls to customer service centers and online help desks asking for the prizes they are owed in response to fake competitions on social media. This costs customer service teams money and takes away resources from genuine queries.

Social media scams can also lead to irreparable damage to trust in the brand and loss of engagement, with victims asking why a brand didn’t do more to stop the scammers given they are using its IP.

Part 4: The brand protection solutions and technology to regain control and protect consumers on social media

Brand protection solutions fueled by technology can safeguard consumers from scams. The threat posed by social media scams should be highlighted to get buy-in from other functions concerned with issues incluas social media engagement, consumer trust, customer conversion, and customer security.

Your marketing and social media teams, for example, will benefit with official brand accounts placing higher in search results. They will also see an increased follower count as consumers are less likely to be diverted by impersonators.

There are several key solutions—fueled by industry expertise and advanced technology—at a brand’s disposal to combat social media scams:

Social media audit

A social media audit is the process of reviewing all social media entities associated with a brand to create a managed inventory of active accounts to drive a better consumer experience.

It is a powerful tool in your arsenal, allowing you to build a picture of your brand’s digital footprint. You can use this data to flag dormant or rogue social media accounts for removal and recover lost accounts and their followers.

Simultaneously, a social media audit will unveil impersonation pages and phishing scams that might be targeting territories where you have no social media presence. For example, you might not have social media accounts targeting the German market – an impersonation page may fill that gap with consumers having no reference point to compare the impersonators to a legitimate account.

To realize the full benefits of a social media audit, this process is best undertaken cross-functionally across your business:

  • Your marketing team can find out where your brand’s social media presence is strong, and where it is weak
  • Your legal team can use the data on impersonation pages for enforcement action
  • Your security team can identify where the phishing scams are appearing, based on the brand targeted and the type of scam (social media or domain based)

You’ll also need excellent reporting to show all internal stakeholders that the business takes these risks and the digital safety of its consumers very seriously.

Automated detection and threat prioritization

It is key that your strategy is proactive, not reactive. Use automated detection and threat prioritization to find the scams before consumers fall prey to them. With this technology, you can reduce the workload and remove the need to “negotiate” with the platforms. It is trained to recognize the hallmark signs of scams and impersonation accounts – spelling mistakes, negative reviews, and the redirection of consumers to illegitimate URLs.

Your strategy needs to constantly evolve. Scams can pop up at any time and are regularly tweaked to catch both enforcement agents and consumers off guard. Scammers will attempt to recreate pages once taken down. Brands should continue to monitor the targeted platform and look out for any URLs shared that have been encountered before.

It is also important to monitor and prioritize phishing-related keywords that scammers regularly use or create variants of. Keywords and matched images can be used to flag the high-risk posts that threaten consumers. These searches must be refined over time as scammers constantly change their tactics.

Network analysis

Scammers utilize a combination of digital channels including social media, marketplaces, e-commerce websites, and P2P transaction services to sell infringing products and target consumers with phishing scams.

These ‘infringer networks’ operate scams across multiple social channels, often re-creating old pages with very similar or identical layouts and photos. Networks employ a collection of page name variants that share the same connecting domain URL and will switch promotion efforts when individual components are enforced.

Network analysis technology is key to identify these larger threats. Businesses use network analysis to trace links between all these separate accounts and locate the perpetrators at the heart of networks. Businesses can then enforce at a network level to take out the entire operation rather than engaging in tactical takedowns.

Part 5: How Mondelēz International used a social media audit to protect consumer trust

Before working with Incopro, Mondelēz International had no way of processing governance of social media accounts for its large portfolio of brands. Over time, social media accounts previously run by Mondelez’ regional teams or external agencies slipped from central control and posed a risk to brand reputation.

Mondelēz brand protection and consumer experience teams enlisted Incopro to perform a social media audit to flag these dormant accounts. They were then either brought under central control or closed down, to ensure that the brands’ messaging was aligned and that consumer experience would remain identical through any digital touchpoint.

The business also identified impersonation accounts that were trying to affiliate themselves with the company and lined them up for enforcement action.

Use Talisman to get visibility and control of your brand, anywhere online

It is critical that businesses are proactive rather than reactive when tackling social media scams. To enable this, your team needs the right technology solution that works at scale.

Alongside text, image, and logo matching technology Talisman, Incopro’s brand protection software, employs other advanced capabilities including network analysis, to identify and connect all digital touchpoints, whether owned or unauthorized. Talisman ensures that you see what your consumers see, giving your team the data and tools to take targeted action against social media scams.

Find out how Incopro helps businesses across industries achieve extraordinary results with a personalized technology demo below.


References

[1] The Web of Profit: Social Media Platforms and the Cybercrime Economy (Michael McGuire & Bromium, 2019): https://www.bromium.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Bromium-Web-of-Profit-Social-Platforms-Report.pdf

[2] Using URL Shorteners to Compare Phishing and Malware Attacks (Sophie Le Page, Guy-Vincent, Gregor v. Bochmann, Jourdan, Jason Flood, and Iosif-Viorel Onut, 2018): https://docs.apwg.org/ecrimeresearch/2018/5351273.pdf

[3] Lidl shoppers hit by £175 free voucher scam on multiple websites (The Express, 2020): https://www.express.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/1284282/Lidl-supermarket-shopping-voucher-scam-WhatsApp-Facebook-Twitter

[4] Regulators and police say Covid lockdowns have driven up online pension scams and demand regulation of Google, Facebook and others (Evening Standard, 2021): https://www.standard.co.uk/business/online-pension-scams-surge-in-covid-lockdowns-google-facebook-b722837.html

[5] Regulators and police say Covid lockdowns have driven up online pension scams and demand regulation of Google, Facebook and others (Evening Standard, 2021): https://www.standard.co.uk/business/online-pension-scams-surge-in-covid-lockdowns-google-facebook-b722837.html

[6] The Rise of the COVID-19 Scammer (The Medicine Maker, 2020): https://themedicinemaker.com/manufacture/the-rise-of-the-covid-19-scammer

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