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Fake Twitter accounts: How to keep your customers safe

28th Oct 2016
Fake Twitter

It’s not uncommon for customers to ask for help via Twitter. In fact, customer service engagements on Twitter have grown by 250% over the last two years! But how can they be certain they’re communicating with the real deal? It could lead to devastating consequences, especially if your customers end up sharing details with an unknown source. But there are ways that companies can help their customers so they don’t fall into these traps.

Before we dive into how you can prevent your customers becoming victims to these schemes, let’s look into a couple of the household names who’ve dealt with issues like this previously and in a professional manner.

Who’s fallen victim?

NatWest is one of the biggest banks in the UK. And when dealing with matters of money, security is of the utmost importance. Sadly, many who went to seek help from this bank ended up on the wrong Twitter account. This account actively encouraged customers to follow links, included in tweets, which swiftly asked for their bank details, something that all banks make sure they don’t request. Luckily for NatWest and its customers, the scam was spotted by Telegraph Money, who then alerted Twitter, and the account was soon removed. But, a big point of concern was that this account had been running for nearly a week before anyone noticed. 

fake natwest

How did this account trick NatWest’s customers then? They’d surely tweeted the official account in the first place? This team of fraudsters tweeted any users who had contacted the real NatWest Twitter feed, advising them to visit their ‘real’ website and verify their account so they could help. Once here, they were asked to enter a wide range of highly personal information, including address, phone number and bank account details.

One of the reasons this hoax account lasted so long without being detected is that it copied a large amount of branding to ensure the website had a similar layout to the official NatWest site. After the fake Twitter account and website were taken down, NatWest confirmed that, so far, none of its customers had fallen for this scam (but did accept they would struggle to find any who'd been tricked).

NatWest seems to have a big problem with its accounts being cloned as not even a week had passed and another of these accounts had appeared, following a very similar pattern.

It’s not just NatWest who have trouble with fake accounts. PayPal customers were faced with a similar situation - being contacted by crooks claiming to be the business and being fed links to give up private information. And, yet again, they got away with it for a short period of time by using a ‘realistic Twitter handle, landing page and login screen’. 

fake paypal

Creating fake business accounts is not a new venture. Supermarket giant, Tesco, had a parody account set up by someone who wanted to offer a more honest view of what Tesco apparently thinks. @Tesco_Express appeared in 2012 replying to anything Tesco was mentioned in - from customers expressing their love of mint ice cream to delivery complaints.

fake twitter

This account even jumped on to tweets Tesco itself was answering, completely confusing customers to what was going on!

Tesco released a statement: “Parody accounts do spring up from time to time. Customers wanting to contact our rather more helpful customer service can do so through @Tesco” and the fake account was shut down within 48 hours.

With accounts like this, the trouble comes from the believability of their appearance - would you have been able to tell it wasn’t a fake account in this case? As Tesco Express is a smaller branch of Tesco’s, it wasn’t too farfetched that customers thought this account to be true.

So it may not be as devastating as sharing your bank details with a hoax account, but there any many ways these fake accounts can damage a business and its reputation.

How do you keep customers safe?

In Proofpoint's recent Social Media Brand Fraud Report, it was estimated that 19% of social media accounts associated with ten top global brands are fake. Clearly, there is an urgent need to protect your customers. 

Even though it’s easy to copy a business’s branding and replicate landing pages and login screens, there are a few tell-tale signs to keep your customers safe on Twitter (and other social media sites too):

  1. Make sure your Twitter account name looks official. If it has any random letters or numbers at the end, customers may become suspicious of contacting you. For example, when it comes to unique company names, it’s quite unlikely that other people had the username first.
  2. The blue ‘verified’ tick. Most of the time, we just think of blue ticks in regards to celebrities gaining their ‘verified’ status, but it is actually incredibly helpful in regards to business accounts too. Put there by Twitter to show that the account is authentic, the majority of the biggest brands in the world have one on their main accounts. Try to gain one for your business to show customers you’re the real deal. It is now even easier to gain the ‘verified’ status too. In July, Twitter created an online application process for Twitter accounts to receive verified status, so that rather than wait for Twitter to gift you with the blue tick, you can now email Twitter requesting it.
  3. Make sure your tweets have some variation to them. Hoax accounts tend to use the same tweet layout and link to the same URL, whilst official accounts do a lot more than just reply, posting things such as advertising and blog links.

Reporting and removing hoax accounts

If your business ever finds themselves with their account being imitated, it can be quite a concern for you and your customers. But never fear! Twitter is here to save the day. You can report accounts for trademark infringement if you find any accounts using your brand’s name without your permission, or even if you find an account impersonating your business. You are not alone if you run into issues like this and Twitter will do everything in its power to avoid any wrongdoing.

Reporting instances where a hoax account has been created can lead to both accounts in question being suspended while they investigate or fix the issue, but needs must when it comes to such issues, unfortunately. These requests must be officially submitted by the trademark holder or an authorized representative of your business using Twitter’s support form.

The internet is a place where people are constantly pretending to be something they are not, sometimes at the expense of others. But when it affects your customers' and business' safety, you need to pay attention. Whether it’s making it abundantly obvious which account out of the millions on Twitter is really yours, or setting up strong procedures to deal with any hoax accounts, we're sure these tips will help you protect your customers. Using these pretty straightforward practices, you can assist not just them, but yourself too, at every stage, should this happen to you. 

Elena Lockett is marketing assistant at FM Outsource. 

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