Brand Protection & Social Media: Tackling Scams & Impersonation

  • Brand Protection
Brand Protection & Social Media: Tackling Scams & Impersonation

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.

In 2021 cybercrime cost the US economy $6.9 billion, with victims losing a combined $235 million from social media cybercrime specifically[1]. Social media cybercrime generates a staggering $3.25 billion for criminal networks annually[2].

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:

  • The common types of social media scams
  • Examples of social media scams
  • The impact of social media scams on consumers and brands
  • The solutions to regaining control and protecting consumers on social media

Part 1: The Common Types of Social Media Scams and Other Infringement

Phishing and Malware

In 2021, social media attacks targeting organizations increased 103%, with phishing volume growing 28% year-over-year [3].

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.

Normally connected to malware-ridden domains, phishing pages require the user to share the page on their feed to attract further victims. These digital footprints left by scammers are one of the ways in which Corsearch 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.

They also divert followers from the authorized accounts, making measuring success harder  for marketing and social teams when social media following is a key success metric.

Impersonation accounts will often hijack trending hashtags and brand 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”[4].

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

In 2021, investment scams accounted for 37% of social media fraud in the US[5].

Social media platforms have also experienced a surge in online pension scams in recent years. 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[6]

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[7].

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, during the pandemic there were up to 35,000 websites selling falsified or unlicensed medicines[8].

The form the scam takes often changes to align with the changing nature of peoples’ medical concerns – for example, in early 2022 fake testing sites sprung up to collect personal and medical information and to sell fake “at-home” tests online[9].

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: How Brand Protection Can Prevent Consumer Harm on Social Media

Brand protection solutions underpinned 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 such as social media engagement, consumer trust, customer conversion, and customer security.

Your marketing and social media teams, for example, will benefit from 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—driven by industry expertise and advanced technology—at a brand’s disposal to combat social media scams:

Social Media Audits

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 cyber 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 programmed 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.

Data Clustering

Scammers use 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.

Data clustering 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.

Use Our Market-leading Software 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, Corsearch’s technology employs other advanced capabilities including network analysis, to identify and connect all digital touchpoints, whether owned or unauthorized. We ensure 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 Corsearch helps businesses across industries achieve extraordinary results by speaking to one of our experts.