Information Technology

The social challenge — are counterfeiters operating right under our noses?

By Chrissie Jamieson, VP Marketing, MarkMonitor, a brand of Clarivate Analytics
Information Technology
Published: 16 January 2018

There is no doubt that social media has transformed the way brands interact and engage with consumers. However, the social media phenomenon has also opened up a new avenue for the sale of counterfeit goods, risking damage to a brand reputation. Despite the prevention policies and guidelines in place on these sites, counterfeiters are skilled in using these platforms to impersonate brands. Scammers do this by using legitimate images, brands names and logos to make themselves appear credible, before promoting fakes goods and directing consumers to counterfeit websites. Whether it’s through fake social media accounts or illegitimate listings and advertisements on online marketplaces, it’s a serious problem that is causing significant headaches among brands of all sizes.

But this isn’t to say that efforts aren’t being made to prevent this activity from happening. Many brands are choosing to implement consumer-centric online brand protection strategies, which can help to eliminate the most impactful instances of counterfeiting and while also making it more difficult for these malicious individuals to cause any damage in the first place. But there’s one area that is particularly vulnerable and yet many businesses are failing to consider: their very own social media platforms.

We are seeing a new trend in the world of online brand enforcement in which those looking to sell fake goods to consumers are posting ‘hidden’ comments on the posts of official brands that link to counterfeit websites and are designed to fool shoppers into making a purchase. These can present themselves in two ways: First, someone will create an account that uses the same name and logo as the genuine brand. In this way, posts in the comment section appear to come from the legitimate brand and are used to guide consumers to the fake goods. The second method is to use their own account to offer what appears to be support or guidance to the consumer, but is in fact a trap to disseminate information about their counterfeit goods.

While this trend might be one that has only recently emerged, that is not to say it is insignificant by any means. Another common method being used by counterfeiters is to pose as a salesperson on a genuine brand’s social media page. The comments generated — geared to selling counterfeit goods — are posted by bots, artificial intelligence (AI) technology that run on a 24/7 basis.

This has also proved to be a form of attack that is worryingly effective, primarily because the audience will be far less suspicious of this activity than other counterfeiting methods; if they are already browsing the brand’s genuine social media account then they have no reason to put their guard up and approach the interaction with any real degree of scepticism.

Another reason for its success lies in the sheer volume of comments that brands receive on their social posts. With so many flooding in at such a rapid rate, it can be extremely difficult for those in charge of your brand’s social media activity to vet or moderate every single one. No matter how tight the net, something may slip through at some point.

It is no secret that counterfeiting of any kind on social media platforms can lead to crippling damage of the genuine brand, but this damage is even further amplified when the activity is taking place on your own accounts. If a victim falls at the hands of counterfeiting in this way, they will likely become irate, decide to post a complaint online. If they mention the fact all of this took place on a genuine brand’s Instagram of Facebook page, the consequences regarding reputational impact are not hard to imagine.

If brands want to deal with this social media challenge effectively, they must seek to identify the culprits of counterfeiting by adopting a more inward-looking approach. It is easy to overlook your own social media accounts — after all, they’re under your ownership, and so as long as no one is hacking into the accounts themselves it’s easy to think you’re safe from harm — but as the individuals behind these attacks continue to grow more sophisticated, we could see them being used increasingly often as part of their operations.

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