The Great Spam Scam: Five Strategies To Stop Brand and Revenue Robbery

Marketers usually think of anti-spam tactics as 'how to prevent' readers from perceiving their e-communications as spam. There is another, more sinister, consequence that may affect you. Spam is not just an inconvenience. For legitimate businesses, it steals productivity, erode your brand, and rob you of revenue.

Many companies have no idea their products are being sold on the black market or their customers are tangled in credit card frauds thinking they ordered something from your organization and are about to receive zip. These shifty sales schemes cost companies billions of dollars each year in lost customers and sales of products and services.

While Aunt Margaret may have served Hormel canned pork (SPiced hAM referred to as Spam), like it or not, you knew what was in it. With Internet spam (unsolicited bulk email or unsolicited multiple postings to one or more Usenet newsgroups), you don't always know what you're getting. Some spam messages are convincing. Some are plain annoying. Whether spicy or not, many of them result in criminal offenses on a worldwide level.

Producers of a popular product, a drug like Retin-A, a best-selling software program, or a service such as a vacation package, are all economically affected by spammers. When people buy these knock-offs, legitimate companies lose money. When people order something and don't receive it, your company gets a bad name.

Five strategies for protecting assets

Whether your company sells pharmaceuticals, software, or other products, these five plans of action will help stop brand and revenue robbery:

1. Protect your intellectual property.
Follow these guidelines for managing the digital rights to your property and for protecting it.

- Verify everything is copyrighted and trademarks are registered. That includes registering with the U.S. Customs Service, because much of this criminal action happens overseas.

- Make formal contracts with your distributors or authorized resellers. Get it in writing that they agree not to send spam about your products.

Unfortunately, in most cases, your audience assumes you or one of your distributors is sending these spam messages about your product. Most of your customers or prospects have no idea someone completely unrelated to your sales organization would take the liberty to send a missive about your intellectual property.

2. Join industry associations.
Every member of the Internet community will be more effective working together than as individual organizations. One way to connect with other companies facing the same problem is by participating in lobbying efforts with them. If you work together, you can trade war stories and tap into additional valuable resources. Try to connect with people that share the same values your organization does. Communicate regularly about issues surrounding spam and the progress of your task force.

3. Be prepared to react.
Once you catch someone, be prepared to prosecute immediately. Spam prevention can only happen at the expense of current spammers, by taking legal steps to enforce the minimal standard out there, and prosecute those guilty of major crimes.

- Set up investigators to sleuth the problem.

- Set up an abuse email address ([email protected]) so buyers and customers can forward spam to you.

- Report anything that affects your brand to the authorities.

- Track the spammer down. Instead of starting at the sender of the spam, direct your search to the end result of the spam. You can do this by making a purchase. That way you will know immediately if the spam is criminal in nature. You will also know where the spammer collects his or her payment, and if the spammer is a pirate or credit card scam artist.

- If the party is guilty of pirating your product, work with that third party payment collection company such as Visa, PayPal, or BillPay and inform them of the problem. They will then get a court injunction to cease and desist, meaning they can shut the guilty spammer down. If the party is guilty of credit card fraud, inform the third party payment company, and also inform the internet service provider (ISP). In the U.S., the ISP will immediately shut down the spammer. Other countries have different laws, however, which is one of the reasons you want to register your product with the U.S. Customs Service.

Know that if you prosecute legally, once you get a court injunction and win your case, you are eligible for disgorgement. This legal term means you are entitled to all of the revenue that the spammer collects. While you may not get rich, at least you'll help stop the problem at its source.

4. Establish great business relationships with distributors and customers.
This strategy relies heavily on public relations including enewsletters. Part of image building, your branding falls under ensuring good business relations. Plante recommends the following ways to build these relationships:

- Let your customers know that spam exists.

- Send out customer surveys about your products and their attitude about spam, piracy, and credit card fraud.

- Create publicity around your steps as a Spam Fighter. Position yourself as a leader in the fight. Perhaps, add an occasional article in your newsletter about your fight against spam or put a note that spam is not tolerated by the "unsubscribe to newsletter" information.

5. Don't continue to spread spam to other users.
While legislation is one way to prevent spam from spreading, Robert Alberti of Sanction, Inc., recommends using technology such as firewalls, spam filters, and virus protection to help prevent and detect fraud. He also recommends using the task force to help end users become more knowledgeable about spam.

Position yourself in the eyes of customers and prospects as one of the "good guys." Regularly inform customers about the steps you're taking and alert them about possible fraud. As long as you continue to communicate with your customers, they'll realize the people at your company and throughout the Internet community don't like the taste of e-mail spam.

Meryl K. Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl.net who increases conversion rates by writing and editing content so organization can focus on their core business. She is the editor-in-chief of the eNewsletter Journal and Shavlik's The Remediator Security Digest. Visit her Web site at http://www.meryl.net/blog/.

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