Protecting Your Content from Cybercriminals

October 2018

scam alerts

Image: iStock

The woman pulled up to the tree removal team in a silver Durango, demanding to know what they were doing tearing down aspens that bordered two properties. “This is my house!” she shouted. Only it wasn’t her house; it was mine. She’d been the victim of an online scam using a fake Craigslist rental listing as bait.

If you ever use free online forums, especially Craigslist, to find a place to live, you likely will encounter one of these too-good-to-be-true listings offering a property for well below market rate. Bad actors take legitimate listings off real estate and job sites and “scrape” the copy and photos to create a fake ad posted on poorly moderated sites that provide free postings. In real estate scams, the “owner” is never in the area but promises to send the keys after a victim provides some information, including private financial data, and sends cash or a money order for the deposit. This is what happened to the woman who claimed to have rented my house when neighbors were cutting down those trees. We had a legitimate listing elsewhere that someone had stolen and advertised with a ridiculously low rental rate on Craigslist.

Cybercrime comes in many forms; so does content. These scams are a good reminder that content providers need to protect their work from being hijacked for nefarious means. Granted, this was an advertisement someone manipulated, but any form of online work can be used. Whether you are worried about being impersonated on a dating site, seeing your work on someone else’s blog or being the unwitting victim of online con artists, here are a few of many ways to reduce the risk of your content being swiped.

Copyscape

Copyscape has been around a long time and nabbed plenty of plagiarists. You type in your site’s URL and it outlines passages that appear on other sites. Just beware that it also picks up generic content, like privacy policies, that many other sites use. For about $5 a month, you can also subscribe to a service that scans your site daily and provides near-real-time alerts when plagiarism is suspected.

WP Content Copy Protection

WordPress provides a number of plugins to detect and prevent site data theft, most of which are easy to install and deactivate as needed. One called WP Content Copy Protection helps stop people from stealing imagery and words by disabling right-click saving or dragging and dropping of images. However, WP Content Copy Protection also disables some other features you might not want stopped, including copying and pasting passages to reuse content elsewhere on your site or allow someone to quote you on theirs.

Tynt Insight

Site tools like Tynt Insight use embedded code to monitor site traffic. But they also can be leveraged to cut down on copy swipes with a feature that automatically populates an attribution link whenever someone tries to do a copy and paste. These tools are common on media sites where people are copying quotes or passages to paste into their own posts. This helps remind them about proper attribution. It can be easy for someone to work around these features, but it instantly reminds that person this is proprietary content—use with caution … and permission and attribution.

Watermarking

One of the easiest ways to ensure no one takes credit for your artwork is to add a watermark to it so it is clear it’s yours. Just be careful because some watermarks blend well with images and others clash to the point of degrading the integrity of the image. And, you’ll still need to hunt down culprits who use the images, even with a watermark showing it isn’t theirs.

Google Alerts

Another tried and true method, if limited in scope, is to set up Google Alerts for keywords you frequently use in blog posts, site pages, image descriptions, etc. Make the alert keywords too narrow, and you’ll likely miss malicious users; make it too broad, and the noise from the alerts will drown out suspicious activity.

It’s also possible to manually search for the same images or words by typing them into the search engine and seeing the results. Anyone familiar with the MTV show Catfish knows this is used to help nab impersonators.

The list of options is long, and it may take trial and error to discover which online tools work best for a creative or a company. Just know there are ways to reduce malicious use of your content, and maybe also cut down on the number of victims who fall for fake ads.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne