How to protect your brand from identity theft online

Chinatown in New York City is laden with designer knock off handbags, sunglasses, and whatever else your heart desires.  The price tag is very appealing.  Not everyone can afford a Kate Spade purse or Prada sunglasses, so we settle for Cate Spade and Prado.

We never think twice about how these knockoffs affect the companies where the originals are made.  Consider this; the same thing is happening online.  People are creating websites similar to yours that could hurt your business' reputation.

Brand identity theft is an increasing problem that is not going away anytime soon.  Fraudulent websites are made to look and feel like your brand. If it’s done right, your customers will not be able to tell the difference. 

Social media networks acting as your business can do damage to your customer base.  According to research conducted by Censuswide for the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a quarter of consumers (25%) claimed to have seen a fake online review, up from 17% when the survey was last conducted in 2014.  Your customers are making decisions based on what they see online.  Word of mouth is the best marketing tool.  When it’s watered down with fake reviews, it can hurt your reputation. 

Imagine if there is a page acting like yours and someone writes a review about your product, but then no one responds, making it look like you don’t care about your customers, driving their loyalty somewhere else.  Retail businesses rely on trust and loyalty.  If that is taken away, then your business could be in serious trouble. 

How are scammers harming your brand?

Traffic Diversion – Scammers can use your name as a ranked keyword to get your customers to their site.  Something as simple as dropping a letter makes all the difference.  Like Prado from before, a customer doesn’t think twice if they see a popup.  They will click on the first thing they see.  If the site is also mimicking your products, the scammer can create an opt-in window and gather their emails to scam them even further. 

SEO Manipulation – This also considered Black Hat SEO practice where your brand’s name, logo, or slogan can be entered under a suspicious website’s meta tags or HTML codes.  An SEO master will get their site to rank higher than yours causing your customers to go to their site instead of yours. 

Cybersquatting – People in the business of taking advantage of you will buy out domains that should belong to you like ones ending in .uk or .ca.  In the long run, you will have to end up buying that domain to gain sole ownership of the brand name.  The owners of the domain will charge you insane amounts.

Those companies can even create social media profiles with the same look and feel of your brand because they own the domain name with a slightly different extension.  Scoop up all of the domains giving you leverage in the long run.

Brand Defamation – People are paid to give bad reviews on websites. Yes, this happens.  Well, it can go either way, but it is not morally right to be paid for a review on any platform. Amazon.com has banned accepting any reviews that have been incentivized in one way or another.  For website owners, you can control the reviews that are seen on your site by certifying the users.

On social media, there is no way to control good or bad reviews.  The best way to handle trolls is to neutralize the situation.  By asking what the person purchased and what they disliked, you start a dialogue.  At least here you can provide excellent customer service, and individuals that come across this conversation are appreciative of your efforts.

Phishing Scams – The most annoying form of brand identity theft is phishing and malware exposure.  You can find these in your spam folder.  Some vendors might use a fake website looking like yours to install malware onto your customer’s computer.  Not cool!

The biggest problem with malware is that it reduces trust from your consumer.  It looks like you're spamming their email.  When your ROI starts to suffer, it might be because someone has taken advantage of your name and packed their email with junk.

How do I protect my brand?

1.    Trademark Registration

Creating an ironclad way to protect yourself starts with your name and logo. There is no better protection than getting some backup from the government by applying for a trademark. 

Under U.S. federal law, you will have complete ownership, and if someone tries to mess with you, they will be in for some dire action.  Here's a guide that will help you out.

2.    Community Management & Verified Social Accounts

You've seen them online, badges on Twitter or a blue tick on Instagram.  This means the social media account has verified you as the official user of that likeness.  You see this mostly with celebrities.  There are all kinds of accounts trying to be someone their not to gain the attention.

You do need to gain quite a significant following before applying for verification.  On the bright side, when you do have a presence, it will amount to a great ROI, but it gives you more reason to protect yourself.

3.    Develop Brand Specification

Branded characters and logos have brand specifications so that when their imagery is replicated, they will look the same all around.  Coca-Cola has a specific red and Skype uses blue.  Creating brand specifications for your organization will make it difficult for others to replicate you exactly and you will send a consistent message to your customers every time you produce a marketing piece.

4.    React right away to brand infringement

If you notice someone is using your likeness, report it immediately. You can look at who owns the domain to let them know as a courtesy that you are planning to take action. If they do not comply, then it’s time to take some serious action.

Luckily, when you are trademarked, it is easy to handle those who are trying to take your brand.  Report the fraudulent site to Google as a misrepresentation.  This includes meta tags, descriptions, ads, or really anything that is in the likeness of your website.  It's important to report the site through a form like this to protect yourself.

Building a brand takes blood, sweat, and tears.  Don’t let a scammer take your business away by taking advantage of your customers.  You will lose their loyalty. 

In the early stages of your website, protect your brand so that fraudulent hackers and trolls won’t have a chance to harm your brand. 

If you need assistance protecting your brand or don't know where to start, contact an agency like 10twelve to lead your brand in the right direction.