Yesterday, the shares of a security services company plummeted after a fake press release statement claimed that it had overstated its profits.
In the mid-afternoon, fraudsters sent journalists a statement about G4S, claiming that the FTSE 100 company would need to revise its financial statements for 2013 and the first half of 2014.
The hoax reported that upwards of £400 million had been recorded in disagreement with standard accounting principles.
It also stated that the company had fired its CFO and accepted the resignation of its general counsel.
The fake email came with a link to a detailed website, which was an exact replica of the company’s actual site. The hoax website’s account has since been suspended.
“Cyber criminals are well-versed in building copycat websites that look identical to the authentic versions,” commented Haydn Simpson, Head of Brand Protection at NetNames. “It is not just banks that suffer from fraud or luxury goods brands that suffer from counterfeiting online. All brands are vulnerable to exploitation.”
Although some quickly realized that the PR statement was a fake, other journalists began sharing the bogus news on Twitter, causing the company’s shares to drop.
The stock was trading at 268.9p at the time when the statement was sent. A half hour later, it had dropped to 266.3p before beginning to rise again after the company confirmed the statement was fraudulent.
“We have been made aware of a fraudulent website and news release purporting to be from G4S which has been released to members of the media this afternoon,” the company said on its website. “The website and the announcement contain wholly inaccurate information.”
The identities of the fraudsters are currently not known, though early reports suggest that the hoax website is registered to an account in the Netherlands.
Regardless, the incident further highlights the need for companies to remain vigilant concerning internet activity that can lead to brand damage, said Simpson.
“Companies must evaluate their online strategy on an ongoing basis and ensure that they remain protected. Brands need to understand the online environment and have the capacity to detect and enforce on fake sites using their brands before issues like this come to public attention.”