Faking it on LinkedIn
It is common knowledge that social media is a breeding ground for nefarious activities, conducted by all sorts of people with ill intentions. And much of this occurs on Facebook, considering it is the #1 worldwide social media site. Certainly preying on minors and cyber-bullying are two of the top offenses we read about almost daily.
But much less is written about the use of LinkedIn and other professional networks for dishonest, misleading and potentially criminal means. LinkedIn is the go-to social site for business professionals who want to expand their network of colleagues and contacts with similar interests, not to mention posting resumes in hopes of uncovering new and more lucrative job offers. So why would anyone wish to “intrude” on members who are simply seeking to interact with others strictly on a professional basis? And how do the scams work?
There are many reasons LinkedIn users want to engage surreptitiously with others, and some are not so obvious. First of all, the most common method for acting with stealth is to create a fake LinkedIn ID. A really good fake ID looks, smells, tastes, and feels real. A legitimate sounding name and photo, along with a fairly extensive work history and educational background point to a “real” person. Several hundred connections and maybe a few recommendations cleverly fill out the profile. Add in a dozen or so group memberships and they are ready to deceive.
Does this sound hard to create? It is far easier than you think. Though many fake profiles are obvious to detect (lower case name, generic company name in their work experience, conflicting work history dates, fake college, stock photo, etc.), creating a very realistic profile takes very little effort. I have a friend who started a recruiting business and needed his business to appear larger than his one-man shop actually was. Using TopLinked.com and other free services he invented and posted 2 new employees who gathered over 1200 connections each — in less than 2 weeks. And both “recruiters” even received multiple endorsements — from complete strangers! Adding to the ruse, his business website listed the “employees'” profiles on the company “About Us” page.
Now what was my friend’s real purpose? Nothing illegal, rather building a network of contacts that he could eventually recruit for new job opportunities, or lead him to their interested friends and contacts. Not necessarily illegal but questionable business ethics.
What other common scams would a fake user conduct? Some of the most popular are:
- Building lists to sell to spam services
- ID theft
- Targeting specific companies to cause harm (financial harm, stealing employees, etc.)
- Creating fake profiles of real persons for malicious purposes
- Investment scams and leading people into other “lucrative opportunities”
- Scraping your more personal content — looking for everything else you include that is only viewable by your connections
- Using fake identities to provide real users with fake endorsements and recommendations, to artificially inflate their resume and profile
Remember, all it takes to create a LinkedIn account is a valid email address. That’s it. From there, anything is possible for the scammer. Always check the senders profile BEFORE accepting or contacting them. When responding to connection requests, or performing your own research to find viable connections for your network, here are a few red flags to look out for:
- Unusual names, generic names, or strange name formatting like lower case words or period symbols in the name
- No photo or high quality stock-style images
- Poor spelling in the profile text body
- Job history dates that don’t make sense
- Low or no current connections
- Sparsely filled out profile
- Any aggressive or persistent contact attempts
If you are the potential victim of a scam, LinkedIn provides the ability to flag the account for their review. So if in doubt, alert LinkedIn.
There is plenty of false information on the Internet. Even Wikipedia has occasional inaccuracies and untruths. Just because a website looks professional, doesn’t mean it is to be trusted. And just because a LinkedIn profile is quite impressive, you should still do your due diligence and research any and all potential connections. Remember, any illegitimate connections you make will propagate to your real connections. So for the benefit of all, please use caution while building your network.