Scammers Are Now Impersonating Small Businesses Online


A new type of scam is targeting small businesses and their customers. Copycats are using small business websites, videos, and social media posts to impersonate them, running online ads to attract customers and make their offerings seem legitimate. Then, they redirect users to a replicated version of the small business website where they can complete their “purchase.” Some might receive cheap knock-off versions of the products they thought they were getting, while others don’t receive anything. And all their ire is then directed to the actual small business who was impersonated.

The Wall Street Journal recently spoke to several small business owners who had been targeted by this type of attack.

For example, Ryan Dahlstrom, global director of digital commerce for Merino sock company Darn Tough Vermont, told the WSJ, “They’d find an old ad we had run, flip a 75% or 80% badge over that image, and throw it up as a sponsored ad or a sponsored post.”

Customers who took advantage of the supposed deals didn’t receive products. So many of them called Darn Tough’s customer service line to check on their orders or lodge complaints.

Dahlstrom continued, “Half of my day, five days a week, was spent tracking down these websites, taking down these websites.”

Unfortunately, this is just one example of the negative effects this scam can have. Technology has made it easier than ever for scammers to collect information from small business websites and then market fake offerings. They can even use AI tools like ChatGPT to limit mistakes in websites and ad copy to make their offerings seem more legitimate.

Ultimately, customers are the ones who are realizing financial losses. But businesses that are caught up in these scams could take a hit to their reputation. And many have had to expend significant resources answering calls and questions about ads and offers that they never actually posted.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that small businesses can do to entirely prevent this scam since anyone can visit a small business website and create their own with similar information. But it may be worth it for some businesses to dedicate resources to tracking copycats and responding to potential issues, knowing that scams like this are likely to be prominent going forward.

And, of course, building a loyal customer base and being transparent with customers online can go a long way toward building a strong reputation and creating a brand that is more resilient when issues do arise.

Image: Shutterstock

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.