Social media: the new frontier for touting fakes?

In this opinion piece, Rachel Jones, the CEO of SnapDragon Monitoring, looks at the rise of social media being used by scammers to target internet users.

In the last two decades, social media platforms have become the most popular websites of the online world. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to LinkedIn, these sites are so popular that 4.48 billion people around the world are active users.

Initially created as networking sites, social media has grown into diverse platforms that focus on news, help promote businesses and offer marketplaces to buy and sell goods. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and even TikTok, have capitalised on this trend by introducing social commerce to their channels as a new way for people to trade.

This is a growing phenomenon, offering many economic and social benefits. Just like markets and car boot sales in the physical world, local buy and sell groups on social media platforms provide a new prosperous environment for businesses to trade, enabling them to reach a global audience often from the comfort of their own home.

However, as social media sites continue to thrive as communication, news and networking platforms, they have also become the new frontier for scammers to target internet users in a bid to steal information and reap financial gains, by touting counterfeit goods and other illegal produce.

Social media marketplaces are not uniformly regulated, so they offer easy opportunities for criminals to promote and sell counterfeit goods, while staying under the radar of law enforcement.

Although most social networks prohibit the sale of counterfeit goods, a quick search of any luxury brand name on any social network brings a plethora of results, and it’s always the same thing: countless advertisements and items for sale, carrying world-renowned trademarks.

Using social media’s freedom, thousands of fake profiles have been set up and it is difficult to distinguish between fraudsters and the profiles of legitimate traders. The goods they are promoting are often rip-offs of genuine brands, encouraging victims to visit imitations of genuine websites or illegitimate websites which have been set up to con people out of money.

In fact, research carried out by analytics company Ghost Data showed that one in five fashion posts on Instagram includes at least one fake item. Counterfeits are frequently sold to consumers as the genuine article, often at a lower, second-hand price and deceiving the buyer with fake receipts and packaging.

The effect on brands

The effects this can have on a brand can be immense: if the item does not retain its quality, the buyer may believe that the brand’s products tend not to last, or the buyer may become aware that the product is fake and be deterred from the brand even as a loyal customer. After all, if multiple fakes are on the market, why should consumers pay a premium for exclusivity?

In addition to this, in certain circumstances, health and safety can also be put at risk. Fraudsters will rarely use quality products to manufacture their goods. In cosmetics, this could mean exposing customers to toxins, in electrics, this could mean putting consumers at risk of fire hazards.

Given the risks and the fact that genuine brands are often caught in the firing line of counterfeiters, it is important that businesses take steps to protect their customers against the threat.

When it comes to protecting against fraudsters, businesses are advised to collaborate with partners that can conduct monitoring to detect illegitimate versions of their website online, as well as fake versions of their products.

It is imperative to build strong working relationships with social media platforms, join anti-counterfeiting associations and work alongside law enforcement. Businesses must also communicate clearly with their customers on the sites that their products can be purchased from and the channels they use for advertising.

If you find a site selling a rip-off of your product, contact them and Trading Standards immediately and ask for it to be taken down. Also, warn customers about any fakes found and specify explicitly that they are not authentic or coming from your brand.

The online market for counterfeit and fake goods is clearly on the rise and having a negative impact on society at large. When it comes to protecting against social media scams, knowledge of the techniques fraudsters use is the best defence.

If businesses and consumers remain vigilant, they can keep one step ahead and protect themselves against the fakes and fraudsters circulating social media frontiers today.