With more than 400 million users and new members joining at a rate of two per second, the popularity of LinkedIn was bound to attract some people not interested in sharing for the common good.
A growing number of fake profiles are showing up within the ranks of the bona fide members.
That begs the question: why are people doing this? What is the point of spending time and effort to build a profile for someone who doesn’t exist? Is it for amusement or something more?
The name of game is actually fraud and/or corporate espionage.
How the fraud works
If the fraudster can connect with just one person, and usually if they persist they can do that, they stand a good chance of connecting with most of that person’s network.
When someone asks to connect with you, it is likely that you first look at their profile and then check to see which of your friends is already linked to them. If you see one of your well-connected, savvy friends has linked to this person, that will often sway you to agree to link with them.
In other words, they gain credibility by connecting to your credible friends.
LinkedIn, like all social media sites, is a target for fraudsters. When people get into your profile, whether it’s professional or personal, they can gather a great deal of information about you.
Then, regardless of what kind of fraud they are trying to accomplish, then can build a great target base.
They may be trying to gain money from you to support an investment; they may be trying to sell you land or products that don’t exist; or they may send you an advertisement for a great but phony job that requires you to send your social insurance number or other personal details.
People who are normally very careful about social media fraud are more inclined to trust a professional site like LinkedIn over some of the others built more on friendships.
Chances are at some point in the last few months you have received a message from a legitimate connection saying they have been travelling in a foreign country and had their wallet and credit cards stolen, that they don’t know who to reach out to, and that in desperation, they are asking you to wire them some money.
While that is a recognized fraudulent approach now, the first time you get such a letter, it is highly tempting to respond immediately to help your friend in need.
Using fake profiles to gather corporate intelligence
The second layer of fraudster is after inside information on your company. They could be working for a competitor or they could actually be a competitor or someone attempting to infiltrate your industry.
By connecting with some of the managers in your firm, they work their way into groups that person belongs to, and before long, they have a front-row seat on industry gossip.
Patience is the name of the game here. They may have to watch and wait for quite a few exchanges before anything comes up of great interest, but inevitably, they will seize on some information that can either compromise your firm or, when leaked to your competitor, give someone else the edge.
For example, they may pick up that a key person is considering leaving or is dissatisfied; they may learn that one of the top managers will be relocating to a foreign country even though you haven’t yet announced your expansion.
They can gather product information, trend information and any number of facts that help those trying to compete with you.
Looking for love in all the wrong spaces
Another group of fakers create their profiles of non-existent people to hide behind so they can prowl LinkedIn for possible love or, perhaps more accurately, lust interests.
You connect with these fakers, usually because you see they have a common connection with you, and the next thing they are telling you how they love your smile and eyes and the parts of you they can’t see and they want to get together or at least get your intimate photo.
How can you spot fakers?
Many people automatically accept anyone who offers to link with them, while others make a cursory check to see who the newcomer is connected to and make their decision based on that.
Being aware of fraudsters should cause you to take a little more time to consider each new connection.
There are some clues that you could be dealing with a fraudster.
One of the first clues is the high caliber of their photo. Even though all of us are encouraged to get our photos professionally done, many of us just throw in our standard head shot and call it a day.
If the photo of the person trying to connect with you is absolutely model-perfect, with excellent lighting, perfect smile with glowing white teeth, and engaging expression, you should take a second look.
While there are many beautiful people in the corporate world, there are very few who look exactly like models. Chances are these photos are models picked up from some free photo site on the Internet. (No offense intended to all of the legitimate beautiful people in the corporate world 🙂 )
Check first if the photo is a fake
If you suspect the person looks too good to be true, conduct a reverse image search on the photo.
There are two ways to do this.
You can simple use the Google Reverse Image Search (https://www.google.com/imghp).
Or you can use Tin Eye (www.tineye.com).
Either of these sites will allow you to see exactly where else this photo appears on the Internet. Chances are you will find your picture-perfect model really is a model for a free use photo site.
Does the name sound phony?
It’s tougher to figure out if the name is real or fake, but there is one way that you can get a clue about this.
If the name sounds really common, is an alliteration, or is a common named spelled oddly, it is more likely to be fake.
Examples of potential fake names would be Sue Smith, Ralph Ross, or John Jones. If Jackson Jones spells his name Jaxson Jones, it’s also a clue that he might not exist. A Dirk Davidson or spells his name Dirq Davidson would also raise a red flag.
What identities most appeal to fakers?
The hands down favorite career for fakers is being a recruiter, because who doesn’t want to be connected to a recruiter? In our eagerness to please and impress them, we are more apt to be careless in our security checks and just open the door wide when we are asked to invite them into our lives.
If they are not a recruiter, they will likely be a CEO or a senior management level person with an impeccable Ivy League style education. They rarely when to their provincial or state college; their faked university of choice is usually Harvard or Yale.
They also like Wharton Business School or even the London School of Economics; in fact, the more prestigious the institution sounds, the more likely it will be chosen.
A too good to be true job history
Fakers rarely stumble through a series of mundane jobs before they make it to their prestigious positions. Instead, their work history is impeccable, just a series of successes with the bar being raised each time.
They succeed brilliantly at everything they make up.
If the job history is too sparse or too brilliant, have a caution. If it sounds just too good to be true, it likely is.
Other clues that all is not right
Based on the faker’s rank and job experience, you will notice that they have a surprisingly small amount of connections. You may assume that they are just getting started on LinkedIn, but ask yourself if that is really likely if the person is as accomplished as their profile shows.
A CEO of a supposedly big company who has only 100 to 200 connections is suspect for a start.
Check and see how many groups they belong to as well. Fakers gathering connections solely to defraud people rarely join groups. This is not a hard and fast rule, however, since fakers trying to gather corporate intelligence do get involved in industry groups looking to pick up information through the chats of others.
What can you do about it?
The days of automatically responding yes to the majority of requests to connect may be coming to an end. It is now a better, and smarter strategy to look at the profile of the person approaching you first, and see if you recognize the ring of authenticity.
If you suspect there might be a problem, but you see that one of your friends or trusted colleagues is connected to that person, take a minute to shoot them an email and ask how they know them. If they tell you that they don’t know them, that they just automatically accepted them, be more prudent and wait until you can see a genuine connection.
You can also send the potential connector a message and ask them politely to just remind you of how you know each other.
As a rule of thumb – if you are not sure, or you have some concerns then do not connect with them.
If you discover a fake profiler on LinkedIn, be sure to advise their Help Center (http://bit.ly/helpcenterfakereport). Then protect your legitimate friends and contacts by sending them a message to let them know.
In the long run, LinkedIn is still one of the best and most effective social media sites for people in business. It can help you grow your business and build your brand. It is an extremely effective site and worthy of your attention.
There are fakers digging their heels into every good thing going, and LinkedIn is no different.
If you want to do one single thing to protect yourself on it as you continue to use it, just take a little more time when someone asks you to connect. Check them out and really study their profile. The few minutes you invest will pay off greatly in the long run.
Until next time. I wish you continued success.
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