How We Used Marketing to Overcome a Brand Impersonation Scam

Crisis Averted

Cancel culture is real. And in this fast-paced society, negative news will damage your reputation in seconds. If businesses don’t act quickly and decisively, they may have to face the irreparable consequences of disinformation or fraud campaigns. So when your brand identity is stolen, how do you steer the conversation in your favor? 

Here’s what we did!

The Gist 

Recently, we were the target of an identity fraud ruse. (A huge thanks to Technical.ly who got the word out about this scam!) Two individuals contacted us on Facebook to confirm a job offer they had received from an apparent BrandSwan recruiter. Sadly, this wasn’t true. The job posting was part of a targeted cyber-attack known as “spear phishing”. In spear phishing, attackers zero in on a specific person with messages that are engineered to be of interest to them. In this case, the alleged recruiter’s email was motivated by a supposedly impressive resume posted on a fictitious job board.

The malicious email went like this: 

Dear (recipient),

Our company BrandSwan LLC received your resume in respect of our AD for the position of a Graphic Designer (Remote) posted with ATS 100+ Job Board. We have evaluated your resume and found your qualifications impressive. Hence, we would like to invite you for a further discussion regarding the job role and your fitment for it.

The interview is scheduled for Monday 02/06/2023 by 10AM EST. Kindly reply to this email as soon as possible to confirm your Availability.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Disguised as a well-meaning email, an unsuspecting hopeful would have responded to it with excitement. And the kicker … there is no such thing as an ATS 100+ Job Board. In fact, an ATS or Applicant Tracking System is a software program that centralizes and automates the hiring process for HR teams. These are platforms that reach, identify and attract a lot of top talent and then streamline the application process — sites like JazzHR, Zoho Recruit, Workable, Jobvite, and BreezyHR.

The Trend 

Recruitment scams like these have become increasingly common since the switch to hybrid and remote work. In most instances, fraudsters are looking to swindle money out of applicants through purchases of onboarding materials. The scammers send a check, and when it bounces, job seekers are asked to pay out-of-pocket with the promise of reimbursement. Once the money clears into the scammer’s account, they disappear and are never heard from again. Other times, scammers are in it for personal identity theft. 

Notable news articles on this issue:

22-year-old shares nightmare of getting scammed by a fake job: ‘I went from excited to devastated in a month’ – CNBC (Oct. 2022) 

Why employment scams are on the rise – Fast Company (Oct. 2022)

Laid-Off Workers Are Flooded With Fake Job Offers – WSJ (Jan. 2023)

How to Get Ahead of the Story?

The golden rule of crisis management is this: speed is king. Catch the scammers off-guard and you shut down their enterprise before it does too much damage. 

Be the first to talk

Don’t wait for someone else to tell the world about what’s happening to you.  Even if you’re not the hardest hit by the situation—take the lead. Be proactive and reach out to your stakeholders and to the affected parties offering help and information on how you are resolving the issue. Be as thoughtful and as detailed as you can. This portrays you as an honest, transparent, caring, and competent brand. 

Set up an information hub

Be the go-to resource. Collect all the information about the crisis and track the bogus accounts that are being used to target people. There’s power in numbers. Work with the public to round up as many as possible. As BrandSwan, we created a website notice and form where victims could report the scam email addresses used to reach them. We also set up an automatic reply alerting anyone who contacted us on social media about the scam. This process was completed within 48 hours of us receiving the first Facebook message. On day four, we shared a social media post where victims could report a case of identity theft should it occur.  

We knew that we succeeded in being the hub when we began to receive reports of different brands being scammed. Unfortunately, this scam isn’t a unique to us.

Report the scammers

Report it ASAP. As soon as the email addresses came in we reported the phishing attempts to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov. We also contacted the various email hosting companies to tell them the scammers are using their platform to do it. This early action helped us flag the malicious email addresses and get them blocked / deactivated. We also reported the scammers to the Better Business Bureau. Additionally, job seekers could forward the emails to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) for analysis and flagging at the address reportphishing@apwg.org. This process was completed in less than 24 hours of us receiving the first Facebook message and went on for 2 more weeks until the form responses tapered off. We’re proud we gave the community both a place to vent their frustration and to empower them to do something.

Don’t be intimidated.

I replied to one of the scammer’s emails and frankly told them to stop. Their response was to ask for a $5,000 payout. I didn’t fork out a dime. As small businesses, we need to know that we have power too and that we cannot be easily bullied. There are systems to support us and a cohort of supportive customers who will stand by us if we consistently show them that we’re working towards shared value. 

Make it public

Tell the media your story. We got the real story out before a skewed / inaccurate version could emerge from somewhere else. We reached out to a local journalist and pitched our story for placement on a prominent tech and entrepreneurship news site.  Journalists and news sites have a wider reach than most businesses and leveraging their platforms helps you effectively distribute information. Of course, this was done in addition to sharing the crisis with our social media and blog audience. Ultimately, our goal was to help as many small businesses and job seekers as we could, know how to identify hoaxes, and stand up against scammers.

Read the article on Technical.ly.

Help where you can

Reach out to your network to support those affected by this event. One of the people that contacted us was so devastated that the job opportunity wasn’t real that it just broke my heart. So, I said to anyone who reported and was looking for a job, “Send me a resume. I’ll look at it for free, and help you get placed”. This was just to help them get spotted for their worth. BrandSwan wasn’t in a position to hire them, but we could empower them.

Controlling the narrative isn’t about perverting the truth as has come to be the norm. Rather, it’s a matter of strategic communication. It’s you realizing that your stakeholder’s well-being and your business’ success are interdependent. You give people the chance to stand up for you by showing that you’re worth standing up for. Let your actions prove your worth.

If you’re interested in becoming a super brand that crafts products and services that connect with people, then book a strategy call with me.  I’m always excited to see brands soar. 

A big thank you to our marketing analyst Michelle Myambo for the heavy lifting on this article!

BrandSwan's Chief Creative Officer

Jane Clark, Chief Creative Officer of BrandSwan

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