Don’t Let Brand Impersonation Fraud Spoil This Holiday Season
The holiday season is a time for consumers to snap up deals before they're gone and gather all the gifts and supplies they need to delight their family and friends. It's also a time when it’s easy for criminals to step up their brand impersonation attacks–including fake ads, social profiles, sites, apps, and products–to trick consumers into sharing their payment information, getting defrauded, and perhaps even unwittingly purchasing counterfeit goods that rely on exploitation.
Fraudsters tend to flourish during periods of disruption, which is one reason there was such a surge of impersonation fraud early in the pandemic. The holiday season represents a much milder and different kind of disruption to shopping as usual, because consumers may be distracted by holiday to-do lists and more willing than usual to believe a too-good-to-be-true offer that appears alongside seasonal discounts.
Ahead of the 2022 holiday season, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reported an increase in business impersonation scams, with consumer losses for the year hitting $660 million, up from $453 million in 2021.
When consumers are duped by brand imposters, they tend to blame the brand, which can lead to reduced customer lifetime value. Whether a consumer abandons a brand after impersonation fraud or not, they may leave negative reviews online or make social media posts about their experience with fraud, which can make it more difficult and expensive for businesses to attract new customers.
In addition to losing customers and reputation, businesses also lose out on sales when brand impersonators offer competing deals on stolen or fake goods. That’s no way to close out what's typically the strongest sales season of the year for many businesses.
Best practices for fighting brand impersonation
To prevent brand impersonators from spoiling everyone's holiday cheer, it's a good time to review and improve what your business is doing to protect your customers and your brand reputation.
Protect Your Brand’s IP
The first step to protecting your brand is to make sure you've trademarked your brand name and logo, along with any other brand-specific assets, like custom fonts. Any intellectual property that's exclusive to your business should be copyrighted or patented whenever possible.
These legal protections can help you make your case for ownership of logos, names, and product designs when you request takedowns. They may also increase the penalties for impersonators if you successfully take action against them in the courts.
Large companies and major brands have legal departments to handle these matters, but small businesses can take steps on their own or work with a business attorney to get these documents filed. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers a set of guides to help you understand the differences among trademarks, patents, and copyrights as well as how to file and when to hire an attorney to help with the process.
Monitor digital channels for brand impersonators
The next step in protecting your brand from impersonators is to watch for impostor accounts on social media and marketplaces, websites and apps that impersonate your brand, and ads for your products that you didn’t authorize.
Monitoring marketplaces for brand impersonators and counterfeit products is particularly important for businesses whose customer base skews toward the millennial and Gen Z age groups. ClearSale's most recent international survey of consumer attitudes on eCommerce, fraud, and customer experience found that these generations do much of their online shopping through marketplaces.
When searching for sites and apps, look for your brand name or URL as well as variations on them. Brand impersonators often use common misspellings to capture customers who've mistyped a brand or business name. You can also search for URL variations and app names that include different city or country names–one criminal group impersonating dozens of popular apparel brands used this tactic to create more than 6,000 fake domains.
Also, be alert to any reports from customers about impersonators. Make sure your customer service team knows who to escalate these reports to and that doing so should be a top priority.
Document any impersonators you identify
When you find accounts or sites misrepresenting your brand, it's tempting to want to move straight to filing a takedown request. However, documenting the impersonation doesn't take long and can help you build a stronger case against fraudsters who repeatedly pose as your brand.
Screenshots of ads, sites, URLS, fake apps, social posts, and product listings are important, along with the time, date, IP address and web host when applicable, or the name of the platform where the impersonator appears.
Documentation can also help you to identify trends in terms of how and where your brand is most often impersonated, so you can allocate your anti-fraud resources most effectively. For example, you might find that the biggest issue you have during the holiday season is with social media accounts that drive customers to phishing websites with promises of deep discounts on your most popular products, so you can focus most of your search and takedown efforts on those channels.
Make takedown requests as soon as possible
After you document the impersonation, contact the owner of the platform it appears on to report the violation of your trademark, copyright or patent and request a takedown. Here again, document each step you take for your records and to help you build on understanding over time of which platforms and web hosts are most responsive and which require extra effort or persistence. This includes monitoring and confirming takedowns and noting the time each one takes.
Communicate with your customers
All of the steps we’ve talked about here are invisible to your customers. There’s one key anti-impersonation step they should see, and that’s information from you about how to avoid being scammed by impersonators. You can include language on your site, social profiles, marketplace pages, and email promotions that reminds customers which URLs and profiles are really yours, where you list your holiday deals, and who they can contact if they have any questions about the trustworthiness of a site, app or product that appears to be from your brand.
Protecting your brand from impersonators is important year-round, but during the holidays it can help you have a profitable season while protecting your investment in customer relationships. Stepping up your brand monitoring now can also help you start the new year with happy customers who look forward to shopping with you again.