Your Company’s Employer Brand Could Be the Victim of an Identity Thief

identity thiefIn the comedy movie “Identity Thief,” mild-mannered businessman Sandy Patterson (played by Jason Bateman) travels from Denver to Miami to confront the deceptively harmless-looking woman (played by Melissa McCarthy) who has been living it up after stealing Sandy’s identity. It’s a funny movie and in its first weekend it grossed over $34 million dollars at the box office.

However, in real life identity theft is no laughing matter. Ask anyone who has had to put their lives and their credit scores back together after it has happened. Companies can be the victim of identity thieves, too. Examples of the detrimental effects of “brandjacking” include cancer patients duped by fake Avastin, construction workers jeopardized by counterfeit equipment and safety products, and in general, the World Health Organization says online sale of counterfeit medicine is a public health risk that could result in deaths due to hazardous chemicals and improper handling of drugs.

Lately with the great increase of jobseekers using search engine aggregators and search engine marketing to search for jobs to advance their careers, many companies’ employer brands are now also the victims of identity thieves.

Companies work very hard to develop brand equity. It has tremendous value. When a company’s brand assets (such as a logo, reputation, or its name) are used by others without permission (i.e. hijacked) it is called “brandjacking”. Employer “brandjackers” are becoming more numerous and more sophisticated with how they are going about it. The practice is now rampant.

While the well-established search engine aggregators (Indeed, Simply Hired, etc) use a company’s name and brand appropriately to attract jobseekers on the employer’s behalf and truly provide terrific value to both employers and job seekers alike, there are many firms who are using companies’ names and their employer brands, and posting those employers’ active and inactive jobs without authorization and misleading jobseekers. It hurts job seekers and it hurts employers’ brands.

At the very least these “brandjacking” practices are creating very poor candidate experiences, making it far more difficult for people to quickly and efficiently find employment opportunities at their employers of choice. At its worst, it can be a misleading way for unscrupulous firms to cash in on the goodwill companies have invested in their brands at the expense of unsuspecting job seekers who think they are applying directly to an employer for a job opportunity but instead being sold as a lead for educational marketing, loan marketing, and other non-employment-related interests.

The practice is widespread and it’s getting worse. Even industry leading employers who take the candidate experience very seriously are not exempt from these fearless pilferers.

Go to Google or Bing, type in any Fortune 500 company name, and then place the term “jobs” next to it and perform a search. Go ahead and give it a try. The very top listings appearing in the center or along the right rail that use the name of the employer look official, don’t they? But chances are many of them are not. I just did a recent test and four of the top six paid search results were from “brandjackers.” Click on them and see for yourself.

You typically never get to see the job you thought you were applying but the site has mandated you to enter all kinds of information about yourself before you can proceed to the next step.

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Instead, you’ve been “phished” and you’re about to be sold to an educational marketer, loan marketer, or other non-employment-related interests. It is very misleading.

Employers are missing out on many good candidates who get diverted … disrupted, if you will, from their job search. Depending on the site, the jobseeker may or may not be able to find a job they can actually click through even after they have been forced to give up their contact information. The candidates have a bad experience. In the long-term, it greatly hurts the employer’s brand (maybe their consumer brand, too).

I even know of an example where someone set up a false profile on LinkedIn claiming to be a recruiter of a Fortune 500 company. The “brandjacker” placed false job postings in their status updates on LinkedIn in an attempt to lure unsuspecting jobseekers. LinkedIn, to its credit, removed the offender when it was brought to their attention. However, the point is that the Fortune 500 Company only found out about this when a jobseeker complained directly to it about it. How many poor candidate experiences due to “brandjacking” go unreported? More than most people realize.

Fortunately, one of the first things you can do to thwart these identity thieves is to use the viral power of social media to make job seekers and employers aware of these wide-spread “brandjacking” tactics. Virally share through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter these and other similar warnings with your networks. Jobseekers need to be selective where they choose to search and apply for jobs. Employers should be very selective, too, about who they authorize to wrap their jobs. They may be authorizing a company posing as a job board aggregator to scrape all their jobs at no charge when, in fact, it is an affiliate marketing lead selling business. 

image from IMDB

Mike Vangel is an award-winning talent acquisition strategist. He has presented at ERE’s Recruitment Innovation Summits at Microsoft & Facebook on recruitment advertising effectiveness using the latest tools and technologies and establishing ROI for Mobile & Social Recruiting. He delivers innovative, cost-effective ROI-based hiring solutions and results for his clients. He is the former President of the Association of Employment Professionals (2006-2011), is currently a Social Media advisor on the Klout Squad, and is vice president of client talent acquisition strategy at TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications, LLC.


8 Comments on “Your Company’s Employer Brand Could Be the Victim of an Identity Thief

  1. Thanks Anmol, It is a major problem. Even for those companies that take great lengths to create a superior level of candidate engagement. Most of these 2012 CandE winners are being brandjacked and they don’t even know it. Here is just one example but we could find similar results for most of the winners. Look what the brandjackers are doing to PepsiCo who consistently strives to do great work:

  2. I find Facebook to be one of the biggest culprits. Look up City of Niagara Falls, for example,and see how many there are. I find this to be true of many organizations where individuals belonging to that company (and sometimes not) take it upon themselves to build out that identity. It seems a little ‘odd’ to me that I can go into Facebook and create a page as anyone or any ‘company’ I want.

  3. @ Everybody: Companies can’t monopolize control of their employer brands anymore- best to treat their employees fairly and with respect, and minimize damage from the occasional “wack-jobs” out there.


  4. Hi Keith,

    Thanks for responding. I enjoyed reading your recent article.

    I just want to point out that the main reason behind writing this piece was to point out that there are unscrupulous firms out there who are using other companies hard earned reputations,their names, their logos, and their jobs without authorization of any kind to lure unsuspecting job seekers for their own ends. The job seekers who are misled and those “brandjacked” employers whose identity and brand have been stolen are being seriously hurt by this. It’s not right.

    Unfortunately, it is not a few individual “whack-jobs” with an axe to grind but a major concerted effort by these affiliate marketers who are making millions of dollars at the expense of job seekers being phished and employers’ reputations getting unfairly tarnished who care deeply about the candidate experience. This is a much bigger problem than most people realize.

  5. Thank you Michael. ISTM that relying on your brand is a very limited, passive, and weak approach to get quality butts in chairs quickly and affordably. Don’t wait for people to come to you, GO AFTER THEM. If your company has good things to offer: tell them when you reach out to them. If you don’t have anything decent to offer people, that’s more than a branding problem.



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