4 Common Online Identity Theft Offenses

Tom Popomaronis | May 6, 2013

The anonymous nature of the Web allows competitors and defamers to destroy a brand reputation in a very short time. We live in an era where we rely on the internet to gather information about companies and people, in order to make important decisions about who and what we should trust.

At the same time, literally anybody can publish illegal content on you in a matter of minutes. Brands don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression and they suffer from several types of online identity offense. Here’s a collection of the most common ones.

Social Network Spoofing

Social media represents a way for users and potential customers to interact directly with brands. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and many others, in fact, allow people to establish a direct channel of communication. But what happens when somebody steals your identity on a famous social network?

Users will tend to assume that is the real account and will probably pay attention to what it says. It’s easy to defame somebody if you own their identity. Famous is the case of GB Global PR, a fake Twitter account spreading humor/protest tweets against the brand and damaging its reputation after an oil spill in 2010.

Domain Squatting

domain

Domains are considered digital real estate. It is like somebody taking your house, job and suit and was pretending they are you. That’s what happened to several brands of all sizes who saw their domain names registered by people who wanted to:

  • sell the domain to the trademark owners for extortionate amounts
  • sell counterfeit products

This exact case happened to Groupon Australia in 2011. The law cannot always protect you from this. The 1999 Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act can be ineffective because the legal costs involved are higher than the domain buyout or there are geographical issues when the domain squatting occurs overseas (which is 95% of the time).

PPC Abuse

Google-adwords-logo-1

Not only do scammers create illegal websites displaying copyrighted brands, but they also exploit the large volume of search related to them. Adwords and other advertising platforms host a huge quantity of pay per click scam advertisement, which produces losses for established brands and online reputation damage.

SEM scamming is limited by search engine algorythms, but that is not a 100% effective solution, as some cases are more difficult to handle and actions are taken only after copyright infringement is claimed.

Fake Websites

real_fake

Possibly the worst online identity crime out there is when brands get millions in sales stolen every year by fake websites which claim they are the original providers of branded products / services but only want to rip people off. Luxury products (see Hermés case) are a niche where this phenomenon is quite widespread.

What can you do about it?

When your identity gets stolen by somebody with bad intentions, the speed at which you act is critical to your brand’s safety. Literally any of this online identity offense can easily hurt your reputation, sales and potential for growth.

In order to reduce the damage and quickly restore what you are losing, you need to handle this reputation management crisis in 3 directions:

  1. Investigating who is the responsible for the illegal posts, online store or websites. This is the most important step as you can tie yourself into tens or even hundreds of thousands in legal fees trying to cross country laws and wade through politics and “human rights”. We find out who it is, where they are and strategise how to best tackle the problem;
  2. Taking legal action with the help an online identity theft lawyer
  3. Devising a promotion strategy which reduces damage;

Did your brand identity get damaged in one of these ways? Feel free to get in touch with us.

Tom Popomaronis
EVP, Innovation
Tom is a serial entrepreneur, product development expert, and content management strategist. Every hour of every day (perhaps too many hours) he focuses on strategies for our Executive Leadership Branding clients to build a powerful and credible online reputation.