The old adage about bad news spreading at the speed of light has never been truer than in today’s interconnected world.
The most recent Pew research confirmed this, finding 41% of Americans turn to the Internet as a primary news source and predicting that it will surpass television soon.
Add in the amplifier effect of follow-on postings, feeds, re-tweets and comments for a potent online communications cocktail.
No surprises so far. What may be surprising, though, is the speed with which fraudsters, scammers and outright criminals jump on bad news and find fertile ground on the Internet. A wise man once said that almost everything that happens in real life has an online equivalent. Bad news brings out the best and worst of humanity and scam artists and con men are swift in taking to the Internet to profit from bad news and tragedy, often using well-known brands or hot news items as the hook.
Early spring brought bad news in the form of massive data breaches, affecting thousands of high-profile brands as well as millions of consumers. Numerous published reports detailed how hackers penetrated networks, making off with lists of customer email addresses and names in one case, and in another case, accessed sensitive consumer information, including credit card data. The scale of both these incidents became clearer in the following days, prompting numerous customer alerts, hearings in the US Congress and a relentless drumbeat of news coverage as more details of the incidents continued to emerge.
Fraudsters had hit the proverbial mother lode: they now had access to names, active email accounts, personal information – and information about particular brands with which individuals had relationships. Having access to this kind of data not only opens the door to an increase in spam and phishing attacks, but also to spear phishing, a form of targeted attack. Now the fraudsters can map consumers to specific brands and capitalise on the fact that consumers expect communications from those brands, exploiting those trusted relationships.
In fact, many experts have issued warnings about the need for extra vigilance when clicking on links in emails, even emails that purport to come from a trusted brand. Other experts have pointed out the need for extra caution in social networks as scammers exploit these communications platforms, too, promising photographs, videos, new apps, games and interesting links which disguise phishing attempts or installation of computer viruses, Trojan horses and other types of malware. After all, news of Osama bin Laden’s death was barely 48 hours old before scam-ridden offers to view photographs of his dead body were circulating on popular social networks and over email.
In times of active news cycles, the public’s ongoing quest for more information will lead to online promotional channels like search engines in order to find more information. In the case of a data breach or other brand-centric event, it’s important to make sure consumers can find a path to the most authoritative source, the brand itself. A brand’s search engine marketing team is the key to forging this path and securing this particular domino. They can identify relevant search keywords and incorporate them in the brand’s SEO (search engine optimization) and paid search plans to direct traffic to the appropriate online resources. Otherwise, scammers and fraudsters are likely to steal traffic meant for the brand, adding to customer confusion and brand dilution.
And, while a data breach or hacker attack usually doesn’t involve physical goods, while we’re on the general subject of ‘bad news’ dominoes, product-centric events like a recall or critical shortage certainly qualify under that broad umbrella. Don’t underestimate the audacity of counterfeiters claiming to offer the real deal. The counterfeiters know that interest in the product is high, and, amidst general uncertainty, will swoop in to fill the need in e-commerce channels.
The myriad of customer touchpoints that the Internet brings provide wonderful opportunities to connect, to share and to do business. Scammers and outright criminals know this, too, and will pounce on any opportunity to line their pockets, often using trusted brands as their calling card . As a result, brands need to actively monitor for scams targeting their customers at the best of times. In the wake of a data breach or any other ‘bad news’, brands need to increase the vigilance level and take a 360-degree view of all customer touchpoints to keep the domino effect from becoming reality.