Report: 70-plus Brands Targeted By Fraudulent Social Media Ads

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As if retail needed another epidemic on its hands, now brands are facing a growing wave of fraudulent ads sweeping across social media.

According to a joint report released Wednesday by Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade and the American Apparel & Footwear Association, some 70 major international brands have been targeted by scam ads posted on major social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, or on sites like Google and YouTube.

The report noted that, in some cases, the advertisements can grab up to a quarter of a million views before they’re detected.

The affected companies hail from fashion, consumer electronics and sports, with apparel and footwear brands making up the lion’s share.

The list includes Adidas, Balenciaga, Calvin Klein, Canada Goose, Cartier, Chanel, Emporio Armani, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Levi’s, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Montblanc, New Balance, Nike, The North Face, Patagonia, Ralph Lauren, Skechers, Superdry, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, Tumi, Ugg/Deckers, Van Cleef, Vans and many more, such as Apple, the National Football League and Breville appliances.

The roll reads like a who’s who of popular labels — which makes sense, as the ads need to be as appealing as possible to ensnare unwitting consumers.

The posts often lure people by featuring a deep discount or other promotion, urging them to click a link to visit the store. They’re then directed to a phony e-commerce site posing as the real thing. In some cases, the goal is to capture financial or other personal information, while in others, the fraudsters may actually ship counterfeit products.

The public’s relative savvy around scams has grown through the years. But while they may be more skeptical of sketchy e-mails, phishing attempts and other online risks, social media ads seem to be a blind spot, Jeffrey Hardy, TRACIT’s director general, told WWD.

When thumbing through social accounts, “they’re not shopping, per se,” he said. “So the fraudulent ads catch consumers when their guard is down, [as] they mimic legal ad strategies.”

The situation appears to be getting worse these days.

Though the coronavirus era didn’t birth fraudulent social ads — such scams have been tracked back since at least 2017 — the pandemic could be amplifying matters.

“Naturally, bad actors know when people will be shopping from home and take advantage of the situation — as with the global health crisis at hand,” said Christina Mitropoulos, AAFA’s manager of brand protection and manufacturing initiatives.

Certainly fake ads for bogus vaccines have been spotted on YouTube, while Facebook contends with an array of sponsored posts promoting unapproved masks. But COVID-19 gear aside, the mere fact that more people are staying home and hitting up their social feeds means that ads are nabbing more eyeballs.

That’s usually considered a good thing, at least for tech companies. But advertising has become a complicated affair lately, especially for Facebook, which is on the receiving end of a growing ad boycott. The scams aren’t just limited to Facebook and Google platforms either. On LinkedIn, for instance, an April 2019 ad promoting Tommy Hilfiger apparel directed people to a fake e-commerce site. Turns out, the phony web site was a dead ringer for others advertised on Instagram.

Such characteristics lead the groups to believe there could be one or more coordinated criminal networks behind the ads. If true, that could put the matter in the domain of federal investigators. As far as TRACIT and AAFA are concerned, it would be a welcome development.

“Recently there has been an uptick in counterfeit and infringing activity on social channels and, if anything, it seems like this trend will continue into the foreseeable future without policy action,” AAFA’s Mitropolous added.

In unveiling their report, both groups demanded that tech companies and policymakers do more to combat this fraud. “Currently, it is the brands that are doing the heavy lifting,” said TRACIT’s Hardy. “This is the purpose of our report — platforms need to keep the ads and the counterfeits out of their infrastructures.”

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