HomeNetsafe CEOCommunications and marketing teams need to pay attention to Brand Impersonation Scams...

Communications and marketing teams need to pay attention to Brand Impersonation Scams and Fraud Sites


In today’s digital age, scams have evolved to target consumers and businesses with fraudulent websites or social media pages that look like the official site of a legitimate brand or person. 

The goal is to trick people into giving away their personal information, such as credit card numbers or login credentials. They are used to spread phishing attacks, bogus investment schemes, knock-off products, or get-rich-quick schemes. 

Unfortunately, scams are working. In 2022, there was a record $35m of losses to scams and fraud reported in New Zealand, to Netsafe. 

‘Brand impersonation scams’ and ‘fraud online activities’ need to be on the radar of communication and marketing professionals because they are becoming too common. 

Marketing and communication personnel are responsible for a brand’s messaging, advertising, public perception, and creativity to name a few. These departments can be the difference between a company being successful and failing. 

Brand impersonation scams have the potential to significantly harm a brand or a person’s reputation. It is a critical issue for communicators and marketers to not only understand, but address, for the sake of their brand’s reputation. 

New Zealand celebrities warn New Zealanders

New Zealand celebrities Sam Neil and Taika Waititi have publicly called out bogus click-bait going around this year, including a bunch of fake accounts messaging their followers asking to chat. See here: https://i.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/celebrities/300792692/taika-waititi-targetted-in-fake-news-post-with-weird-photoshop-image

Sam Neil’s social media account manager publicly shamed the fake account holders in a plea for followers not to fall victim. 

It isn’t just big Hollywood actors who are being impersonated. Closer to home, Matty Mclean joined a growing number of fake celebrity accounts, trying to steal from New Zealanders. Read more here: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/the-real-matty-mccleans-social-media-warning/AZYRTWU7JFBUTBGOFWZ4K6JJMM/ 

How Are Brand Impersonation Scams Harmful?

Damage to Brand Reputation

Brand impersonation scams significantly harm a brand’s reputation. The victims of these scams no longer trust the legitimate brand because they feel resentment towards it. This also creates negative word-of-mouth that can be difficult and costly to overcome. 

Financial Losses

Brand impersonation scams can cause direct financial losses. For example, if a consumer purchases a fake product from a scam site, the brand will not receive any revenue from the sale. This can lead to profit loss for a brand, especially if the scam site is successful in attracting many customers.

Legal Claims

Brand impersonation scams create legal issues for the legitimate brand. In some cases, the scam site may engage in illegal activities, such as selling fake goods, phishing attempts, or spreading malware. 

If a consumer doesn’t distinguish between the real brand and the fake, the brand may then be associated with illegal activities, even if they were not involved. 

Decreased Customer Trust

Brand impersonation scams may lead to decreased customer trust in the real brand. Consumers who have fallen victim to these scams may be less likely to trust the brand in the future, making it more challenging for marketers to build relationships and retain customers.  

Brand Hijacking Going Undetected 

As the previous Domain Name Commissioner, I regularly dealt with small and large businesses that had their domain names stolen. Someone created fake business profiles, advertising services, or counterfeit goods at lower prices and eventually took the money but never delivered any products.  

Impersonation scammers use websites or social media scraping and spoofing lookalike URLs to imitate brands. These activities often don’t raise any flags through ICT security monitoring making them difficult for technical staff to track. 

How Can Communicators and Marketers Protect Brands and High-Profile People from Brand Impersonation?

Monitor the Web Regularly

One of the most important steps communicators and marketers can take to protect brands and high-profile people is to regularly monitor the web for instances of impersonation. This can be done manually, or through online monitoring tools that search for instances of the brand name or logo being used fraudulently.

Establish an Internal Working Group/Email Distribution List

Communicators and marketers need to take a multi-stakeholder approach to solve this problem. It starts by registering trademarks with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand and flows on to setting up domains and social media presence for the brand. 

A free resource to get started is the government’s digital boost program here: https://digitalboost.business.govt.nz/

It then extends to include domain name monitoring and using threat intelligence to identify impersonation attempts. That means working with a team in fraud and risk, legal, security, IT, and communications across any large business. 

Act Against Scam Sites

Once a brand impersonation scam site is identified, marketers need to take action to have it removed. This can be done by contacting the hosting company or the domain registrar and requesting them to take down the site. In some cases, legal action is necessary.

Educate Customers

Another way to protect against brand impersonation scams is to educate customers about the dangers of these schemes. This can be done through outreach and communication efforts, including email campaigns or social media posts, that inform customers about how to identify and report scam NZ sites.

Ensure Real Accounts Use Validation Methods 

Industry platforms have introduced a blue tick or badge (Meta products e.g., Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok) to show that an account’s identity has been confirmed. 

Verification is generally reserved for celebrities, brands, or influencers. It will help when informing fans, followers, and consumers to distinguish between real and copycat or fake accounts.  

At the end of the day, impersonation scams can raise legal, communications, security, fraud, financial, and trust problems so having a team of internal experts to help will make disrupting impersonation scammers a little easier. People are trying to steal or trade off your reputation, and you need to try and stop this from happening.  

Report Scams NZ 

Those wishing to access Netsafe’s support around how to make a scam report can text “Netsafe” to 4282, call 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), email [email protected] or visit netsafe.org.nz/report.  

Brent Carey
Brent Carey
Joined Netsafe as the CEO in early May 2022 after previously serving as New Zealand’s Domain Name Commission. Prior to that Brent held senior positions at the Australian Telecommunications Ombudsman and the Victorian Department of Justice.

Must Read

What’s in store with the online world for 2023?

Our senior experts make their predictions about the online world. Significant advancements in technology make it difficult to predict what will happen in the online...