Online Scammers – not just the vulnerable who are the victims

When we think of scams, we can often assume that’s it’s our vulnerable elderly relative or pensioner neighbour who is the target. However, scammers are more sophisticated than ever and if the pandemic is anything to go by, no one is safe from being scammed, especially online

An issue that has raised its ugly head recently, particularly during the pandemic is image theft, or copyright misuse, particularly on social media. For individuals there has been a rise in catfishing, often in relation to romance scams and using fake images and setting up a false online profile to trick their victims. Whether you are an individual or run a business there is something than can be done, copyright theft can be straightforward to enforce yourself as unlike other intellectual property is automatically granted. If you’ve come across someone misusing images you can quickly move into action to have them removed.

Put simply it is rights that relate to creative materials such as text, photographs, artistic works, music, film and sound recordings. Copyright protection is granted automatically as soon as work has been created and the owner of the copyright controls how their creative material is used. For many brands it’s a popular IP to enforce, used to protect images, music and words worldwide because it’s granted automatically in 179 countries as part of the Berne Convention, you also do not have to pay a fee or registration or apply for protection. In the US in 1998 Bill Clinton passed The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which also protects copyrighted work, more explanation of this can be viewed here.

Copyright infringement is when your work is copied or used in any form publicly without your permission. For brands copyright protection is crucial because whether it’s a photo of a product or a logo, it’s an important business asset. This misuse can occur on social media, online marketplaces and websites to name but a few. Be on your guard when online shopping, if a popular brand is being sold cheaply or being delivered from an unusual destination, it might be fake and copyrighted images are being used to mislead.

For individuals, if your image has been used without your permission you can have it removed. Romance fraud has sadly increased in huge numbers during the pandemic, this is when someone sets up a fake profile on a dating app or site or social media with the intention to steal money or personal details to commit identity fraud. Also known as catfishing, the scammer will connect with their target, build rapport over days, weeks or months and typically will try to use their details to steal their identity or ask directly for money.  Our past blog on Romance Fraud has lots of handy tips to help with this issue. If you are in doubt about anyone you are chatting to online then a Google image search is a helpful tool.

Fake celebrity endorsements

Another type of copyright misuse is fake celebrity endorsements. This is where scammers steal an image of a well-known ‘expert’ or ‘celebrity’ to endorse a fake product to lure their victims. Their image is used illegally, usually as they are viewed by the public as a trusted source. Sadly, many unsuspecting members of the public have lost £1000s to these types of scams. According to a report from the from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) , financial expert and TV presenter Martin Lewis and founder of Virgin, Sir Richard Branson are two celebrities whose names are most commonly used in these bogus product endorsement scams.

Martin Lewis has long been fighting scammers who have used his image and name to promote a range of products from PPI reclaims and mortgage brokers to energy products and binary trading. These fake ads have appeared on sites such as Facebook, MSN and on Google Ads.  As stated on his official Money Saving Expert website, he does not endorse any products and is fighting the scammers head-on with his tireless campaigning to create awareness and have these ads removed. More details of these fake ads can be seen here.

Susanna Reid, journalist and Good Morning Britain TV presenter has also been a target from similar fake endorsement style ads with her image being used in a ‘diet scam’. Reid was only alerted to the scam when she received a message on social media from a follower who was upset at not receiving her ‘keto diet pills’. Other celebrities who have been targeted in similar style endorsement scams include Holly Willoughby and Ed Sheeran. Be careful when seeing celebrity endorsed ads, these may be hiding something more sinister and if it seems too good to be true it probably is.

There is nothing more distressing than having your image or copyrighted work used illegally. If you come across anyone using your copyright then make contact in the first instance with the individual, page or seller. Amicable resolution is always preferrable to potentially expensive legal battles. Take a screenshot of the infringement, copy the URL (keep both for your records) and contact the individual or company privately. If this does not resolve the issue and the problem is on Facebook, Instagram or other social media you can report the listing by clicking on the ‘3 dots’ that appear at the top of the post and choose the ‘report post’ option.  

Reporting websites

A website using your copyright can also be reported using a DMCA takedown notice. If you have no luck having infringing copyright removed by the website owner, whose details should be found on the contact page or terms and conditions, then send a complaint to the website host. There are many free online tools available to help find the host and owner details, which should include a contact email to report any issues.  A non-profit organisation called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) collects domain information, their Lookup tool is here, Digital.com also have a WHOIS look up tool, but there are many others available.

DMCA notices can be issued if the copied content is hosted in the USA, this may be honoured by many providers even if they are outside the US so it’s worth trying. Many sites have free DMCA templates that can be helpful for structuring a complaint. Internet service providers in the UK have different reporting processes than the USA, however more information on lodging a DMCA outside the UK can be found here.

Other Help

Bogusbuster also has a wealth of information on reporting on social media as well as online marketplaces such as Amazon and Alibaba here.

It’s crucial to report scams and fraud quickly, especially if money is involved. You can report identity fraud to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. If you are in Scotland report to the Police Scotland by calling 101. Don’t forget to contact your bank and credit card company. Victim Support have a free helpline to guide victims of fraud and other crimes by calling 08 08 16 89 111.