Let me set a scenario for you. You have an problem with your mobile phone provider in terms of a service issue. As an avid Twitter user you tweet them with the basic details of your problem. You know that it is them because they have a verified Twitter account (signified by the green tick on their Twitter address) and have a million followers. Two minutes later you get a response from them, asking to Direct Message them details of the issue, and just to verify who you are, your username and password.
“Great service” you think but before you send any personal details just go back and look at this trail of events. Whilst the organisation you tweeted was the genuine party, the one who sent you the message wasn’t. They simply set up a new Twitter account, using the name @xyzsupport (where xyz could be anybody) and then monitor the public tweets being addressed to them. Spotting a “damsel in distress” they follow them and then send them a message to offer help. Hook, line and sinker.
Think this is a work of fiction? Then think again. An enterprising researcher decided to see what would happen if he set up a “parody” support account for EE, the UK mobile network. Whilst he “cloned” their official looking page, he made it very clear on his Twitter page, @MyEECare, that this was a fictional support page. He actually did this after EE had been asking customers to Direct Message their mobile numbers if they needed support. His idea was to see how easy it was to fake a large brand’s social media presence. It took him less than a minute to get up and running.
He was amazed that users started to send him sensitive information, believing that his was a genuine account. He even managed to advise some customers how to rectify common problems. Finally, he was rumbled. His account was suspended. But that is not the end of it. He did a simple search and found @EESupport was available, so simply set up another page.
The phone network had done nothing to protect their brand on Social Media. It took our intrepid researcher a few seconds to find the available Twitter accounts. As the use of Twitter is free, brands should protect themselves as thoroughly as they can. There are a number of free and available tools that can be used to see who is abusing a brand in Social Media. This forms part of a full brand audit that NetNames carries out for brands, both big and small, as well as some advice on what a business can do to take some simple steps to avoid such abuse that damages customers, revenues and above all, reputation.