One of the most important assets for any firm of financial advisers is its reputation.
It is something we build up over time and personally I am very proud of the standing we have in the industry.
However, it is an asset that is open to attack from malicious individuals who have found that the internet is the perfect place to launch sneaky and nasty campaigns against both firms and individuals.
There has been a lot of talk in the financial industry press about whether or not internet forums and comment streams should allow people to post anonymously.
I feel that if someone has an opinion to view, they should be made to identify themselves, to stand up and be counted. However, it does require a certain degree of courage to set yourself up to be pilloried by the scourge of the internet – the trolls.
Internet trolls are not a new concept. They spread bad feeling around the globe by the use of defamatory, insulting or just plain rude messages on websites all across the web.
They hide behind cryptic user names and feed off the controversy they create. We have all seen their comments and, frankly, the suspicion is that they are sad individuals hiding in darkened rooms, with no real knowledge of our industry.
In most cases, I would not dream of dignifying their posts with any kind of response – to be ignored is more painful to these nasty troublemakers.
However, we sometimes see evidence of a different type of malicious attack that has a double impact – trolls who impersonate real people in the industry and post malicious comments online. The result is damage to the real person’s reputation as well as to the object of the comment.
In such instances, I firmly believe that the perpetrators should be brought to book.
Within Almary Green, we have been the victims of this type of attack on one of the industry news sites. Pensions in divorce specialist Fiona Sharp was appalled to find that comments had been posted in her name putting views that were certainly not hers and using language that was offensive. The imposter had not hacked her account but had simply set up a new user account using “Fiona Sharp” as the user name. When she dug deeper, Fiona found that the other “Fiona Sharp” had been posting derogatory comments for about three months.
There is only one Fiona Sharp in our industry and we have to assume that she – and Almary Green – was being specifically targeted. What is more, another member of our team – one of our administrators – has been targeted in the same way.
While the site has removed the comments and blocked the rogue accounts, it will not divulge the identity of the imposters. It has this information in the imposter’s registration data but says that data protection rules do not permit them to pass the information on to us.
However, this is one time when I am determined to fight back. We are not afraid to take legal action to unmask these people – and will bring the case to the attention of the police if we feel a criminal act has taken place. There is a process using a special court order – a Norwich Pharmacal Order – that will oblige the site to pass on the information we need and we may well go down that route.
So, watch out if you are looking to damage reputations in our industry as we will be looking to name you and shame you.
Carl Lamb is managing director of Almary Green