Small businesses are being urged to eavesdrop on what internet users are saying about them to stop the countless scammers chasing consumer credit card information by pretending to be respected brands.
Meanwhile, experts say social media platforms should be doing more to crack down on scams.
Earlier this month Melbourne Central acted quickly to shut down a fake Facebook page offering prize packs to customers in celebration of the shopping centre’s 25 birthday.
Over the past few weeks a number of fake emails from individuals pretending to be retailers Myer and David Jones have also been targeting consumers, promising product sample packs in exchange for credit card information.
One of the scams asked for customers’ personal details and promised free samples from David Jones in exchange for completing a survey.
A David Jones customer told the retailer via social media she was then sent items from a different subscription box service and was being charged monthly.
The retailers have acted swiftly to report the scams and assured customers via social media that the scams have been reported to the platforms and authorities, with David Jones saying it does a regular sweep of social media for new scams.
“We are aware of these phishing scams which are not legitimate and not affiliated with David Jones. We wish to remind customers that we would never ask them to submit their financial details via a link in an email or advertisement,” a David Jones spokesperson told SmartCompany.
“If customers are ever concerned about the legitimacy of an email or offer purporting to be from David Jones they should check with our customer service team on [email protected].”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch department estimates over $810,000 have been lost by shoppers in online retail scams so far this year.
In 2015 shoppers lost $1.4 million, with 22% of the scams coming via email and 8% from social media. The number of fake social media campaigns so far this year already make up 9% of losses.
Crisis management expert Nicole Matejic says businesses need to have a really good understanding of internet branding and be vigilant about when their company name is used online.
“Use free apps like Mention, or even Google alerts. When someone posts something like that, it will allow you to know pretty much straightaway and report it,” she says.
But social media platforms should also be taking further steps to protect businesses from impostors, Matejic says.
“The other question is what is Facebook doing to crack down on these kind of enterprises? I think there’s some accountability on both sides of the fence. David Jones for instance is a multinational company with a verified Facebook page – how are these people getting away with [the scams] in the first place?” she asks.
Belles and Whistles PR director Janey Paton says SMEs have to understand that big retailers have huge teams for crisis management for online scams, and smaller operators stand to be hit with reputational damage that they are not equipped to face if they become the target of a scam.
“Small business owners are not expected to know the latest and greatest in tech and innovation – so they should try to outsource this so there’s someone they can go to [if a scammer hits],” Paton told SmartCompany.
Developing a strong and defined online brand will also help customers spot any irregular activity early.
“If the audience gets to know your brand and your tone of voice, then they will be a bit suspicious and maybe even steer clear [of scams] or contact you directly about them,” says Paton.
The process is key
These scams hit airlines, fast food restaurants, hotels and retailers on an almost daily basis, and the volume of fake business accounts means that once one problem has been settled, another often arises. Last month Melbourne Central told SmartCompany it has a system in place to both report and communicate any untoward activity around the brand.
Social media strategist Nicole Jensen says the most important steps for businesses are to report any suspicious activity, then have a plan to restore credibility so customers don’t lose faith.
“Find as much information as possible and then report your claim [to the social media platform],” she says.
“Official business documents and IP may be required.”
Then, “address issues publicly”. This involves not just highlighting the scam, but telling the audience why your site is legitimate and how to look for the “verified” markers on your social media platform, Jensen says.
Letting customers know that the business has let the relevant regulatory authorities know is also important, says InsideOut PR director Nicole Reaney.
“Demonstrate to the consumer that you take the situation seriously and what you are doing to support them,” she says.
Many scammers use the exact logo, company descriptors and contact information when phishing for consumer data – so the appearance of a business site is incredibly important.
“Have good quality graphics, similar to that you would have on a TV ad. Does it fit the design of your website? Be consistent with both messaging and content,” says Jensen.
It should also be easy to contact your business so that customers can report scams as they come across them. The ACCC recommends consumers contact the seller of an item in the first instance before they make a scam complaint – meaning that if a customer comes across someone pretending to be a business, a customer will likely contact the legitimate brand first.
Whatever the process, it’s important to remember these scams are not going away. The ACCC recommends consumers spread the word to family and friends and report activity as they see it.
SmartCompany contacted Myer but did not receive a response prior to publication.
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.