The security of your customers is of the utmost importance to you and your organization. Consequently, cyber scams like brand impersonation and social frauds can and do harm businesses of all sizes. Approximately $5.3 billion has been lost worldwide as a result of impersonation attacks, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
If you steal sensitive information and money from your clients, this can erode their confidence in your organization and ultimately impact their trust in you. Here, we’ll examine the different types of impersonation and how brands can combat them.
How does social media impersonation work?
Impersonation or identity theft occurs when a person, company, or organization’s name, image, or other identifying information is used to commit fraud. In general, it refers to the act of pretending to be someone else on social media platforms. The practice of impersonating a brand or person on social media differs from other legitimate uses, including fan accounts, parodies, and information pages.
Types of impersonation
There are many forms of impersonation, from phishing scams to full-blown online fraud where you buy products from illegitimate sellers. Scammers often impersonate brands in these ways:
- Phishing: It is common for scammers to impersonate brands (or their employees) in order to obtain sensitive customer information, such as social security numbers, passwords, or bank account information. Among the industries most affected by these practices are the financial sector (particularly FinTech companies that tend to interact with their users on social networks).
- Counterfeiting: Brands’ fake pages are intended to deceive their consumers by selling inauthentic products. They often operate through aggressive advertising campaigns directed at brand consumers, redirecting them to a website outside the social network where the transaction occurs. Despite its relevance in a multitude of industries, this practice is particularly prevalent in the luxury and fashion sectors.
- Fake news: Accounts impersonating politicians, celebrities, public institutions, advertising agencies, and others, are used to spread false news and information.
- Scams: A lot of frauds on the Internet (coupons, romance fraud, 491 scams, account takeover, etc.) originate from identity theft through social networks.
How do impersonators operate?
Impersonators operate in different ways depending on their social network, their objectives, and their sophistication.
It has been observed that different impersonation attacks exhibit some common behaviors:
- The number of impersonations a brand suffers and its social media presence are usually correlated. In one sense, brands without official accounts are often easy targets for fraudsters, who will attempt to exploit this gap to deceive their followers. Conversely, brands with more presence (followers, posts, campaigns, etc.) are also prime targets for impersonators, as they know there is a large base of customers to rip off.
- The impersonators often use the same photos, names, descriptions, posts, hashtags, etc. As the official accounts. Other common tactics include impersonating “support” or “customer service” pages, as well as running raffles and promotions. A few posts do not guarantee that a given account is risk-free: it could be sending private messages or running aggressive ad campaigns on the social network and redirecting those affected to external web pages.
- In some social networks, it takes several days for newly created accounts to appear in search results. During these periods, the most sophisticated impersonators launch very aggressive attacks, often through ad campaigns targeted directly at consumers of the brand.
- The type of social network strongly determines the type of impersonation. The likelihood of impersonating brand executives or employees is higher on social networks such as LinkedIn. The majority of impersonations on social networks such as Facebook occur through “Pages”, although sometimes they occur through “Profiles”, “Groups” or “Events”. In order to correctly identify the different types of impersonation, it is important to understand how each platform works and its audience.
Is there a way to stop social media impersonation?
The majority of platforms offer reporting tools for those affected, but they usually leave it up to brands to identify and report any impersonation. It is clear that the first piece of advice is to be proactive since no one will solve your problem for you.
When dealing with social impersonation, the following considerations should be kept in mind:
- Automation: It is imperative that technology is used for daily tracking and reporting of violations in very serious cases. The key to detecting and reporting these accounts is consistency and speed. This prevents them from growing their follower base and causing damage.
- Broad Keywords: Additionally, searches should be conducted for all variations of the brand name (misspellings, separations, alphanumeric combinations, etc.). Observe hashtags and keywords frequently used by the brand.
- Logo recognition: The use of image and logo recognition models can help to identify the presence of logos and other distinctive brand signs in profile pictures, thereby eliminating false positives and determining criticality.
- Risk & Similarity scores: When prioritizing and choosing the best enforcement strategy, algorithms can help identify the importance of an account and the risk of confusion with an official account based on its parameters (name, description, photos, followers and followers, posts, opening date, etc.).
- As part of a comprehensive brand protection strategy, websites, domain names and app stores should be monitored in addition to social media.
Social media impersonation is a growing problem that affects thousands of brands and individuals across most platforms. There are risks involved, including loss of revenue and traffic, as well as reputational issues and loss of consumer trust. In order to identify and remove such infringements as quickly as possible, brands must take a proactive approach to the problem.
To ensure the success of this strategy, technology and expertise in intellectual property enforcement are key elements. Your customers and reputation can be protected with mFilterIt’s Impersonation Removal solution, which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify and remove fake websites, apps, and domains.