Scams & shams: The trouble with social networks

Diversionary Tactics

Social networks also have been used by scammers to lure a brand's customers to malware or phishing sites -- or to e-commerce sites hawking counterfeit or gray-market products. According to a survey by MarkMonitor, which tracks online threats for its clients, in the 12-month period ending in the second quarter of this year, phishing attacks on social networking sites increased by 164%.

In a CMO Council survey of 4,500 senior marketing executives, nearly 20% of the respondents said they had been affected by online scams and phishing schemes that had hijacked brand names. It was the third-biggest category, right behind cybersquatting or illegal use of a trademarked name, and the illegal copying of digital media content. The fourth category was online sales of fake products that contain deficient or dangerous ingredients.

Barbara Rentschler, CMO at K'nex Brands LP, sees cybersquatting, online scams and false association of its brands on other sites as the biggest threats to the toy maker's brands on the Web. She uses a monitoring service to track and shut down cybersquatters and scam sites. Many sites that misappropriate K'nex trademarks are overseas, she says. Most aren't malicious: They're simply businesses that hope to become K'nex distributors.

With so many different brand threats to contend with online, it's important to have a coordinated strategy. Unfortunately, says Cyveillance's Carnall, many organizations take a triage approach, sending the issue to legal, IT or marketing. "They silo it," he says. But someone needs to be keeping track of outcomes and the overall impact on the brand, he contends. "You almost need a brand intelligence officer."

At Kodak, the buck stops at the CMO's desk. Hayzlett keeps communication flowing through what he calls online councils with every department in the organization, including IT, legal and human resources. "Everyone needs to work together and understand each role. We work as a team," he says.

Communication between marketing and IT is key. "The most powerful team would be if you connected the CMO and the CIO at the hip," Miller says.

Customers are often the first to notify a business of a problem, so listen to customer service lines carefully, says Frederick Felman, CMO at MarkMonitor. At WWE, it was fans, not staffers or a monitoring service, who first reported the Triple H imposter. "Take the complaints you get seriously," Felman advises, "and be prepared to act quickly."

Rentschler says IT needs to educate colleagues in marketing about risks. If IT sees a problem and fixes it without telling anyone, "no one else will know what to look out for," she warns.

IT needs to push back more when marketing plans can jeopardize brand security. It must, for example, fight pressure to rush Web site changes through without thorough security checks. "I don't think IT does a good job of saying, 'Here's all of the IT issues with the brand upkeep,' " Rentschler says.

With so much online turf to monitor and so much activity in cyberspace, it's important to prioritize. Lynn Goodendorf, global head of data privacy at U.K.-based InterContinental Hotels Group, says she tries to focus on sensitive, confidential data. But even there, you have to have realistic goals. "Mitigate your largest exposures," she says, "but don't think you can mitigate it down to zero."

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Robert L. Mitchell

Computerworld (US)
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