How brands can successfully navigate the threat landscape on social media
As the social media landscape continues to evolve rapidly – from ever-higher usage, emerging channels, and social marketplaces – so too has the threat from bad actors.
In this piece, you’ll learn why forward-thinking businesses can protect consumer trust in their brands on social media. We also explore best practices for monitoring incumbent and emerging social media platforms to tackle new behaviors and retain control.
Part 1: The evolving threat landscape on social media
From counterfeiting and phishing to impersonation and negative association, brands face a barrage of threats from bad actors on social media.
Fraudulent activity can lead irrepairable damage to consumer trust for brands that are caught in the crosshairs.
The rise of abuse on social media stems from two factors: the ease of use and ability to set up accounts, and the enormous number of users that can be reached – it is estimated approximately 50% of the global population are social media users.
Brands are targeted by both impersonators – using brand names/trademarks in their account names — and other bad actors that make no apparent connection to the brand in their account name. However, impersonation accounts are specifically dangerous as they are more likely to breed consumer confusion and lend an air of authenticity to the posts, third-party links, or offers found on these pages.
Phishing threats and impersonators
Impersonation pages can be used to misdirect the consumer to another site that may be selling unlicensed or counterfeit goods, which diverts money away from brands to the counterfeit organizations.
Phishing scams are particularly dangerous – they are responsible for the theft of consumer information and are therefore seriously damaging to brand reputation.
Phishing scams vary between platforms and territories. Incopro’s Brand Protection analysts note that for social media phishing scams, Facebook often poses the greatest threat to brands because bad actors can target the platform’s huge user base across the globe.
These 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 2 days.
Facebook scams pose an increased threat because searches can bring back different listings every time; infringing pages will not always appear in the first set of results. This means additional searches are necesssary, taking up extra resource.
Phishing pages — such as the one highlighted above — 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 infringers are one of the ways in which we discover phishing pages.
Part 2: How bad actors exploit social channels – how infringers operate across channels and at scale
Clandestine counterfeiters and convincing impersonators – infringers are sophisticated operators on social platforms.
There are number of ways a potential consumer is asked to engage to complete a transaction — links to 3rd party websites, contacting the seller via 3rd party apps, so that completion of the financial transaction is completely offline and out of view, and, in some rare instances, requests for personal meet-ups.
Platforms such as WeChat and Instagram are common platforms used by bad actors to directly message consumers. For example, an infringer will Direct Message a user on Instagram, then direct them off platform to complete the transaction. This will usually take the form of an e-commerce website or a P2P transaction through a service such as PayPal.
How networks of social media infringers operate
Bad actors utilize a combination of digital channels including social media, marketplaces, and e-commerce websites to sell their illegal 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 if they are enforced.
The key to tackling infringer networks is to trace links between all these separate accounts and locate the perpetrators at the heart of the operation. Businesses should then enforce at a network level to take out the entire operation rather than engaging in tactical takedowns.
Part 3: How brands should respond to social media threats
Brands must assess the threat level and retain control of their social channels.
Diligent monitoring and swift enforcement are critical to successfully reducing the number of consumers falling prey to counterfeits and phishing scams.
This strategy needs to be constantly followed – scams can pop up at any time and are regularly modified to catch both enforcement agents and consumers off guard.
Infringers 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 phishing related keywords that infringers regularly use or create variants of. For example, infringers may use the brand name along with the words “hamper, hampers, basket, competition, anniversary, US, fan”, etc. To find new threats, these searches must be refined over time as infringers often change their tactics.
Social media platforms should not be relied upon alone to remove infringements; they do not necessarily recognize the hallmark signs of scams and impersonation accounts. Monitoring is essential to highlight spelling mistakes, negative reviews, and the redirection of consumers to illegitimate URLs.
Social media audit
A complete social media audit is a powerful tool in a brand’s arsenal. This allows your business to build a picture of your brand’s digital hygiene, unearthing dormant official (and unofficial) social media accounts and pages.
Simultaneously, a social media audit will unveil impersonation pages and phishing scams that might be targeting the areas 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 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)
Part 4: Why advanced detection techniques are key to unveiling social media infringers
Talisman, Incopro’s Brand Protection platform, is used by our expert analysts to discover and action threats on social media. Alongside keyword matching, advanced detection techniques are key to discovering infringement.
Logos are usually visible within the images used in phishing posts and on infringing products. Infringers use distorted logos to avoid detection while still being recognizable to consumers.
Machine learning-driven logo detection capability allows Talisman to identify infringements where logos have been obscured or adjusted. Our platform then continues to train itself to detect images that are further distorted as infringers attempt to adapt.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
We supplement our advanced keyword searching technology with optical character recognition to discover all infringements and prioritize by the threat they pose.
Our optical character recognition (OCR) technology allows Talisman to discover and collect text that has been embedded in images to avoid keyword detection.
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Webinar: Growing risks on social media – How to mitigate threats and protect consumer trust
Access our webinar on-demand to hear key insights from Brand Protection experts at Incopro and global educational testing and assessment organization ETS on why a cross-functional approach is critical to tackling threats on social media.Access the webinar
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