I’m fairy sure these are fakes….

How scammers use pictures of the real deal to trick online shoppers into parting with their cash

We are not in the business of selling cars, we sell dreams

A picture says a thousand words, so the saying goes, but what if the picture in question is fake, or the picture is real but the product, service or solution doesn’t exist?

One of the major selling points for any online merchant today is to have good imagery. In most instances we want to look at what we are buying, or who we are engaging with, from different angles, as well as reading genuine reviews. You don’t have to go far searching online for tales of woe of where reality is a very different world to what was advertised online, whether that is hotels, cars, clothes or even dates.

But there is a growing trend of fraudsters using images and product descriptions of genuine small businesses, riding off the back of their hard work in building their business then undercutting them and defrauding customers. Not only does this damage the revenues of the genuine businesses but it can also impact negatively on their reputations.

One small business that has seen this happen too often is FantasyWire, so much so that they now have clear warnings on their website that they do not advertise on Social Media and any similar products being advertised and sold are fakes. The artist behind the creations, Robin Wight, has taken years to grow his business only to see fraudsters look to profit from his intellectual property. The most common ruse used is to use Facebook Ads with a picture of a genuine work of Robin’s then direct potential buyers off onto a website to take payment, although the products can also been found on Amazon too (search “fairy wire sculptures”)

The commissioned art that FantasyWire sell starts from around £15,000, whilst the scammers offer their “products” for less than £50 – that in itself should be a major warning sign for any potential customer. If someone does buy one then at best they will get a sub-standard product that is nothing like the photos being used, or at worst they will receive nothing and their personal and financial details will be used in further exploits.

Whilst the artist can report the fake ads to the Social Media networks and the marketplace sites, he has to do each one individually. “They’re asking me to report every leaf off a tree and I’m trying to report a forest”, Wright told the BBC about the issue he faced not only on the fake ads but the overwhelming number of them.

For small businesses, a formal brand protection strategy may be too costly, although where there is clear evidence of damage to revenues and reputation the return on investment is worthwhile. However, one less formal way small businesses can get an idea who is using their IP, such as pictures of products in ads, is to use Google Image Search, where you can upload a picture and Google will search for where it is being used online. It isn’t foolproof but it is free and easy to use, with results appearing immediately and will give businesses an idea on the extent of the issue they face. Social Media networks and market place platforms need to do more to protect brand holders, especially in how they can report clear infringements. It is all too easy for fraudsters to set up their online presence, create fake ads and start defrauding people.

Naturally, we are all after a bargain, but somethings things are simply too good to be true and it pays to do a bit of research before parting with your cash. Not everything is what it seems online and whilst many of us lose our natural skepticism when we are using Social Media, it pays to be cautious – not only are you protecting yourself, but the owner of the real intellectual property and potentially other online shoppers too.

More details of the story can be found on this article by the BBC.