Social networking refers to a group of individuals who make connections, or “networks” within the group, typically online. Social networks you might be familiar with include: Twitter , Facebook and MySpace . Social networks develop around commonalities, such as a geographic location or a profession. Some individuals and companies may even monetize their social networks by promoting their goods and services or the goods or services of others.
Given the reach of social networks, and the time and talent it takes to build valuable connections, it is not surprising some social networkers “cheat” by creating social media accounts using the identity of a famous person or company. Certainly adopting a persona like Barack Obama will attract a larger network of followers more quickly than using a name like John Smith . So what do you do if you or your company is the victim of an accountjacker?
If an accountjacker is using your name to deceive your customers or dilute the distinctiveness of your trademark, time is of the essence. Any delay can translate into the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as the loss of customer goodwill you might never recover. While it is importantly to act quickly, it is just as important not act without undertaking a little due diligence first.
Some accountjackers are merely interested in defrauding your customers to make as much money as quickly as possible. Others may actually be fans, or “evangelists,” promoting you or your company. The appropriate initial contact with the accountjacker depends a lot upon which type of accountjacker you have. Coming down too softly on an “unfriendly” accountjacker may bolster them to continue, or even expand their fraud. Conversely, coming down too harshly on a “friendly” accountjacker, especially a particularly powerful evangelist for your product can backfire , leading to a public relations nightmare far greater than the accountjacking.
What Causes of Actions do I Have?
While there are no laws presently address accountjacking specifically, the law provides victims of accountjacking with many types of recourse. The type of recourse available will depend upon the particular venue and actions of the accountjacker. Potential types of redress include:
Trademark Infringement – A prior federally registered trademark on the account name not only provides direct access to federal courts to address issues of trademark infringement, but the threat of triple damages and attorney fees is often enough to stop the infringer with nothing more than a cease and desist letter.
Terms of Service Violation – If the accountjacker is outside of the country, or otherwise difficult to locate, you may want to check the Terms of Service associated with the social network involved and contact the administrator with your concerns. Contacting the administrator can be hit or miss. While some social network are very proactive in dealing with accountjackers, others often go out of their way to stay out of the fray.
Defamation – If the accountjacker is using the social network to make false statements causing you damage, you may have a cause of action for defamation. Given the difficulty of proving damages attributable to the defamatory statements, it is often desirable to include at least one other type of claim in your lawsuit against an accountjacker.
Fraud – Making a case for fraud can be very effective if you can prove the requisite facts. Most important is proof of deceit either for personal gain or damage to you.
False Light – False Light involves the implication that the victim has done something which a reasonable person would find highly offensive. Damages may be difficult to prove in a case of False Light.
The forgoing is just a snippet of the potential causes of action a victim might have against an accountjacker. If you are the victim of an accountjacker, you really need an experienced lawyer to keep you from making the problem worse. Contact a lawyer in your jurisdiction who has experience with this area of law.
Properly assessing the situation and pursuing the proper course of action quickly can often mean the difference between resolving the issue with a letter and dumping tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life into a lawsuit. If you are very lucky, you may even be able to leverage the accountjacking into a public relations boost .
In my next post, I will examine how to voice your opinion, while reducing the likelihood of getting sued for accountjacking.