How Founders Can Protect Their Brands Online
We can’t say enough about the dangers of identity theft. While many are well aware that cybercriminals exploit the slightest exposure of personal data to steal people’s identities, so do businesses.
As I was considering what to share in this week’s ICT Clinic column, my thought process led me to an article I read in The Washington Post. Although I try not to meddle in world politics – we have enough drama in Nigeria – the title of this particular article caught my attention. I read: “Russia says its companies can steal patents from anyone in hostile countries.
The authors went further by pointing out that Russia has decreed that the theft of patents from any company associated with countries hostile to it will not result in any sanctions. Already, clones of well-known American brands like McDonald’s, Ikea, and Starbucks are filing trademark applications to launch imitation brands like Uncle Vanya, Macdonalds, and Starbucks, among other variations.
It bears mentioning that the economic implications for these popular brands due to the outright theft of their intellectual property will be astronomical. This shows that whether large or small, businesses can fall victim to identity theft, albeit to varying degrees of loss.
That being said, this article explores practical advice on how business owners – especially SMBs and young startups – can protect their brands. Compared to large enterprises, small businesses may not have the necessary resources or security measures to help them detect and limit fraudulent activity, which makes them more vulnerable to attacks. I have also learned that many businesses are unaware of the devastation and havoc that identity theft can wreak on their businesses.
Brand impersonation is the impersonation of a business in the digital space to commit fraud. This is a situation where online thieves hijack the direction of the business beyond the control of the people running the business.
Since companies capture so much data about their employees, customers and internal operations, cybercriminals are often on the prowl to steal this sensitive information, using company lines of credit to fraudulently open offices or fake merchant accounts. From bankruptcy, lower credit ratings, loss of customer money and loss of brand reputation, to lawsuits, these are some of the rare consequences of corporate identity theft.
You might be wondering if there are any warning signs before a brand is attacked. Indeed, there are, and it is good to familiarize yourself with the schemes that criminals often use. Consider the four most popular.
Black Hat SEO Practices
Many people are familiar with the concept of search engine optimization (SEO), a brilliant digital media strategy that helps businesses rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). However, few people know that SEO can be used in a negative way. Hence the term black hat SEO. What does this imply ?
Imagine that Company X ranks very high in the SERPs. Another sleazy site that wants to poke fun at off-brand X comes after it by inserting the brand name, logo, or slogan into its header, meta tags, or buried in the HTML code. What then happens is that the site, despite not being affiliated with Brand X but claiming to be, may rank higher for a particular keyword than the original brand.
Propaganda of paid negative reviews
In e-commerce, some have pushed competition to the extreme. They discredit their business rivals with petty slander and defamation.
Fake customers are paid to leave negative reviews that slander a brand and its products on social media, encouraging shoppers to patronize another brand that sells similar products.
Phishing is an age-old tactic that scammers cut their teeth on as they progress to more sophisticated forms of cybercrime. As worn as this method may seem, it remains one of the most used by hackers.
Phishing is any form of communication in which criminals use a company’s name to obtain personal customer information for fraudulent purposes.
Fake social media attacks
It’s a growing trend that goes hand in hand with the mob mentality, some brands are being slandered without anyone asking them to tell their own side of the story. It has been separately established that the competition triggers such negative campaigns solely to distract the brand under attack or to gain some form of advantage over it.
After discussing some of the techniques used by cybercriminals to compromise brand identity, let’s look at tips that help protect brands online.
Take advantage of IP protection
There is a saying that there is nothing new under the sun. However, this saying in no way minimizes the importance of copyright and intellectual property law.
Besides launching a product or business, one of the first things a founder should do is secure the proper intellectual property safeguards. Among other things, intellectual property protection may include trademarks, copyrights and patents. Hiring a knowledgeable intellectual property attorney is the way to legally protect your brand from copycats, litigation, and infringement.
Fortify your digital assets starting with .ng
Your digital assets include your website and social media platforms where your brand connects digitally with customers. For new business owners, domain names are an essential aspect of any business brand. Once you have found your business name, search for and register a domain name. Even if you don’t plan to start a website right away, claiming your domain name is necessary.
Maintaining an active and verifiable social media presence can help maintain trust in your brand and fight fraudsters. Meaningfully engaging with customers is a strategy that never gets old, so use your social media channels to stay connected and meet customer needs.
Monitor your finances
Keep track of company credit reports and other financial documents so you can easily spot them when things don’t add up. This will allow you to fix any problems before they explode out of proportion.
Respond quickly to threats
Act as soon as possible as soon as you realize your brand is under attack. If it’s an intellectual property issue, hire your attorney, who will issue a discontinuance order to the offending party.
If it’s an issue of defamation or lies about you online, post appropriate statements on your social media and other outlets to dispel a negative perception of your brand.
While industry leaders are taking the lead in fighting the epidemic of identity theft, business owners also have a responsibility to their brands.
Many multi-billion dollar companies operating today are successful in part because they not only built innovative products that met their customers’ needs, but they intended to protect their brands.
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