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What is brand impersonation?

In our digital world where con artists tirelessly hatch new schemes and cybercrime surges in profitability with each passing year, every user has a personal stake in knowing what is out there. Whether it is a social media account, website, or even an internal email at your company it is wise never to take for granted that anyone is who they claim to be. For any internet ruse – illegal, immoral or both – the key to prevention is awareness of what to look out for and how to report it. Read on for some useful insights into domain squatting, social media impersonation and business email compromise to make sure your brand is a powerful presence online and not another fraudster’s fool.  

Business Email Compromise  

CEO Impersonation or Business Email Compromise (BEC) is an increasingly prevalent form of cybercrime with tens of thousands of cases each year in the United Kingdom alone. This scheme appears as an official-looking email sent within an organisation to request payment of an invoice, personal contact details or account logins. Sometimes the perpetrator will do this using an official company email they have compromised; however, the email will often arrive from a completely random (and clearly not internal) email address bearing the name of a real-life colleague. In this case, scammers weaponize urgency in the subject line and message to try to get you to click, pay or send information before you realise something is amiss. Beware of subject lines like “URGENT! Available? I need you to handle a short but URGENT task” and take care to inspect the sender’s address before pinging off any contact details or financial information. Additional measures include blocking the sender and reporting the email to an internal cybersecurity or IT rep or at Action Fraud (UK).

Domain Fraud 

Today, an online presence is integral to any business’ branding, however there are also a host of online schemes associated with website and domain registration. Website fraud in its many forms can be boiled down to any act of registering a domain name with the intent to profit by impersonating a trademark owner or diverting traffic from legitimate websites. A fraudster can pre-emptively register a domain that includes a trademark or is otherwise likely to be of interest to a trademark holder. This practice is called domain squatting or “cybersquatting”, and even includes the deliberate registration of a domain with a spelling error or slight variation of a trademark. A domain squatter can profit from the traffic of individuals searching for the trademarked term by selling counterfeit goods or through “phishing” – coercing financial details or passwords out of site visitors under false pretences. The fraudster may also try to sell the domain to the trademark owner to quickly earn a lump sum. Perhaps most nefariously, a domain squatter can use accounts associated with the domain to send emails impersonating the owner of a trademark – even if there is no live website associated with the domain. This practice carries endless potential for exploitation that can be both devastating for the business being impersonated and anyone who receives fraudulent correspondence from a squatted domain (see Business Email Compromise above). 

Intellectual property goes a long way in dealing with domain fraud; ordering the transfer of the domain to the trademark owner, the deactivation of a website or sometimes even the payment of indemnities in court. However, detecting fraudulent domains can be difficult, technical, and time-consuming work. Fortunately, the SnapDragon team is adept at domain monitoring and can be vigilant on your behalf – detecting and eliminating fraudulent sites and providing insightful reporting for your review and peace of mind.  

Social Media Fraud 

Just as websites and domains are susceptible to impersonation, so too are social media accounts – irrespective of the platform. A fake social media account often includes a handle with a brand or person’s trademark – often with spelling variations, numbers in place of letters or underscores scattered throughout (ex: @brandname vs. @brand_name). Searching variations of your official account name/handle should lend insight into whether you are being impersonated. It is also common to find content ripped directly from the stories and posts of the genuine account to deceive users. As with the use of fraudulent domains, impersonators on social media capitalise on the attention and goodwill drawn to a legitimate brand by diverting traffic to their false page where they might be selling something, offering non-existent bargains, or soliciting personal information. Most platforms like Instagram and Facebook have in-built functions for reporting impersonation where registered IP can be a huge advantage in taking down fake users. That said, a dynamic, proactive approach to handling these fraudulent accounts as they emerge is best.

SnapDragon’s powerful detection technology and experienced team, coupled with the strong professional contacts we cultivate at social media companies makes us the ideal partner in your online security and IP protection.  

Worried about online impersonation? 

SnapDragon Monitoring is an online brand protection service for businesses to find and resolve instances of intellectual property (IP) infringement online. We search the world’s busiest social media and online marketplaces to identify copies and counterfeits of products and brands, so that they can be removed. Doing so protects revenues, reputations and most importantly, the end consumer. Originality is proven using intellectual property rights, such as trademarks, design rights and copyright, and then processed by either the customer or our team of brand analysts, resulting in a quicker and cheaper process than traditional methods. Using our intelligent Swoop software, infringing products can often be removed from marketplaces in under four minutes. 

Get your free brand check 

Would you like to see how we could help you protect your intellectual property? We are offering a free brand check, which will show where your brand may be in danger. Get in touch today! 


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