Monday, July 4, 2022
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How founders can protect their brands online

We cannot say enough about the dangers of identity theft. Although many are quite aware that cybercriminals exploit any slightest exposure of personal data to steal people’s identities, the same is true of businesses.

While thinking of what to share in this week’s ICT Clinic column, my thought process led me to a piece I read in the Washington Post. As much as I try not to meddle in global politics -we have enough drama going on in Nigeria- the headline on this particular piece caught my attention. I read, “Russia Says Its Businesses Can Steal Patents From Anyone in Unfriendly Countries.”

The authors went further to report that Russia has decreed that patent theft from any company associated with countries that are unfriendly to it, will not yield any penalty. Already clones of well-known US brands like Mcdonald’s, Ikea, and Starbucks are filing trademark applications to launch imitation brands such as Uncle Vanya, Macdonalds, and Starbucks, among other variants.

It is worth mentioning that the economic implications for these popular brands due to the outright theft of their intellectual property will be astronomical. This illustrates that, whether big or small, businesses can experience identity theft, albeit to varying degrees of loss.

That being said, this piece explores practical tips on how business owners – particularly SMEs and young startups – can protect their brands. Compared to bigger enterprises, small businesses may not have the resources or required security measures to help them detect and restrict fraudulent activity, which makes them more vulnerable to attack. I have also learnt that many businesses are unaware of the devastations and havoc that identity theft can wreak on their businesses.

Brand identity theft is the impersonation of a business’ identity in the digital space to commit fraud. It is a situation whereby online thieves hijack company management beyond the control of the individuals running the company.

Since businesses capture so much data on their employees, customers, and internal operations, cybercriminals are often on the prowl to steal such sensitive information, using companies’ lines of credit to fraudulently open offices or bogus merchant accounts. From bankruptcy, drops in credit scores, loss of customers’ money, and loss of brand reputation, to lawsuits, these are some of the few consequences of corporate identity theft.

Perhaps you are wondering if there are warning signs before a brand goes under attack. Indeed, there are, and it is good to be familiar with ploys 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 the search engine result pages (SERPs). However, not many know that SEO may be used negatively. Hence the term black hat SEO. What does this entail?

Imagine that company X ranks very high on the SERPs. Another fishy site that wants to mooch off-brand X comes after it by inserting the brand’s name, logo, or slogan in its header, meta tags, or buried within the HTML code. What then happens is that the site, though not affiliated with brand X but claiming to be, may rank higher for a particular keyword than the original brand.

Paid negative reviews propaganda

In e-commerce, some have taken the competition to the extreme. They go about discrediting business rivals through petty slander and defamation.

False customers are paid to leave negative reviews that slander one brand and its products on social media, encouraging buyers to patronise another brand that sells similar goods.

Phishing

Phishing is an age-old tactic that scammers cut their teeth on as they advance to more sophisticated forms of cybercrime. As worn out as this method may seem, it is still one of the most used by hackers.

Phishing describes any form of communication in which criminals use a company’s name to obtain clients’ personal information for fraudulent reasons.

False Social Media Attacks

This is a growing trend that goes with the mob mentality, some brands get maligned without anyone getting to ask them to tell their own side of the story. It has been established severally that competition get such negative campaigns going just to distract the brand being attacked or to gain some form of advantage over them.

Having discussed some techniques cybercriminals use to compromise brand identity, let us examine tips that help protect brands online.

Leverage IP protection

There is a saying that there is nothing new under the sun. Yet, this saying in no way minimises the importance of copyright and intellectual property law.

Besides launching a product or a company, one of the first things a founder should do is secure the proper intellectual property safeguards. Among other things, IP protection may include trademarks, copyrights, and patents. Hiring a competent IP lawyer is the way to legally protect your brand from copycats, litigations and infringements.

Fortify your digital assets starting with .ng

Your digital assets include your website and social media platforms where your brand connects with customers digitally. For new business owners, domain names are a vital aspect of any business brand. As soon as you come up with your business name, search for and register a domain name. Even if you are not planning to set up a website immediately, claiming your domain name is necessary.

Managing an active and verifiable presence on social media can help maintain trust in your brand and combat fraudsters. Engaging meaningfully with customers is a strategy that never gets old, so use your social media channels to keep in touch with and attend to clients’ needs.

 Monitor your financials

Keep track of business credit reports and other financial documents so that you can easily spot them when things do not add up. Doing this will allow you to fix any problems before they blow out of proportion.

 Respond quickly to threats

Act as quickly as possible as soon as you realise that your brand is under attack. If it is an IP issue, engage your lawyer, who will issue a desist order to the erring party.

If it is a defamation issue or lies being told about you online, issue appropriate statements on your social media channels and other news outlets to clear up a negative perception of your brand.

Although industry leaders take the lead in addressing the epidemic that is identity theft, business owners also have a responsibility toward their brands.

Many multi-billion dollar companies operating today are partly successful because they did not only build innovative products that fulfilled their customers’ needs but they were intentional about protecting their brands.

Copyright PUNCH.

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