Trade marks abused in new social media scam

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Scammers do not need to break in to your account, they just need a trade mark.

Wherever there is an opportunity to access a large number of online profiles, it is very likely that scammers are present.  These cyber criminals are constantly adapting their methods to gain access to personal and business accounts for financial gain.

Most of us are familiar with the classic scammer methods of breaking in to accounts or tricking victims in to giving up their credentials.  But it now seems fraudsters have found a new way to take control of social media accounts, and it seems no one saw it coming.

How does it work?

Scammers are filing fake trade marks to gain control of high-value social media accounts. For example a luxury clothing brand or popular candy store.  They then recycle some of their classic tricks of creating seemingly legitimate email addresses and user accounts to forward their fake trade mark filing direct to Instagram or Twitter as “proof of ownership” of the social media account in question.

Instagram and Twitter allow users to report accounts that a person or company believes infringes on their trade mark.  Essentially if an account (eg: @nikeair) on a social media platform is created by someone unrelated to the business, the company may want to appeal to obtain ownership of the username.  If Instagram or Twitter agrees, it may then hand over control of the account to the trade mark holder.

As reported in an article by Motherboard:

To pull off this account hijacking, the scammer registers a trademark that corresponds to the already-existing username they want with the relevant government department; in the US, this would be the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Once that’s done, the scammer will enter the required information into Instagram’s trademark complaint form, which asks for details such as the jurisdiction where the trademark is registered, the trademark registration number, and a link to the registration itself.

How widespread this practice is and how successful scammers have been with this method does not seem to be available.  However, it does show the unconventional avenues they are pursuing to gain control of business accounts and information.

All major social media platforms are aware of these scams and have teams that work on trade mark and Intellectual Property issues, reviewing whether a violation request may be fraudulent.

Protect your company's social media account

Apart from hoping the social media teams correctly assess any fraudulent claims against your social media accounts, the best method is to simply take control of your trade mark

These scammers are most likely to go after unprotected handles with common words or 2-3 lettered usernames.  Due to this latest scam, we must be proactive and aware of our IP matters as these scams are always evolving.

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