And some ways to avoid linking up with scam artists
By Dan Yurman firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan is CDPUG’s Blogmiester. The views expressed here are his own.
According to Forbes, Linkedin is disrupting the corporate recruiting model with over 150 million members and estimated revenues of over $800 million. That’s a huge online presence so it should come as no surprise that scam artists of all kinds will try to leverage it for their own purposes.
Linkedin is an especially useful platform for independent practitioners, such as freelance graphic artists, writers, and web developers. A free membership on Linkedin can bring the benefits of posting a resume, getting endorsements and recommendations from customers and colleagues, and, most importantly, being visible to potential clients.
All this openness comes with some risks and some of them are faked Linkedin profiles. Why do people post fake profiles? Here are a few reasons.
· To bolster an otherwise weak resume. This practice isn’t confined to low life losers. Yahoo CEO Scott Thomopson paid a huge price moneywise in May 2012 when he was fired from his job after falsely claiming academic credentials he did not earn.
· To inflate or promote the political resume of a candidate for public office. Fact checking journalists usually uncover these falsehoods rather quickly.
· To make a company look bigger than it really is in order to promote questionable or illegal business practices or to puff up its credibility to gain more sales.
· To inflate link building and SEO results for a client, to promote events, drive traffic to a web site or service, and generate sales leads.
· To test the waters for available talent by a proposal team, company HR department, or the competition to your company.
· To engage in phishing scams by getting people to give up personal information to be used in identity theft.
· To redirect a user to a malicious site resulting in the download of software that takes control of the PC.
How to spot a fake profile
Use the principle of “it just doesn’t look right.” One of the classic scams is to fake the name of an important personal in business or government and use it to approach people. The rule of thumb about things “being too good to be true” applies here. If you are not in Warren Buffet’s online network, trust me, he is not going to approach your with a Linkedin invitation.
The same principle can be applied to local industries. The head of a large advertising agency is not going to directly approach a freelance graphics artist with a request for proposal. The CEO has people who do that for the company.
That’s why Linkedin identifies people sending you invitations are being in the second or third tier your network or not in it at all. The rule of thumb is to treat online networking as a mirror of your personal networks.
Deal only with people you know or can verify regarding their identity, business affiliation, and online presence outside of Linkedin. A quick check on Google will establish whether someone wanting to be your next best professional network link is real or not.
These are some of the ways to check if a profile is real. You don’t have to be an online detective to use these methods. If enough question marks remain after asking these questions, consider not replying to a sketchy request for a Linkedin connection.
· Is the name plausible? While John Smith is a common name, hiding behind one is a first resort for fake profiles. Names that sound good, e.g., Jimmy Johnson or Darlene Darling, etc., and others with easy on the brain alliteration, are frequently used by scammers. You need other confirming information to accept it as real.
· What about a picture? Head shots, as they are called in the trade, are important, but if the one you see looks like a “too good to be true” stock photo, keep the question open about whether the profile is real or not. The absence of a profile photo is not an automatic indicator of a fake profile. Some people seeking to avoid racial or age discrimination don’t post one.
· Does the profile make sense? Fake profiles often list degrees from top colleges, but a tip-off is they don’t list a year of graduation or a major field of study. Another tip off is that the job information is sparse, has major gaps, but the profile has memberships in lots of groups. If there is no industry or geographic pattern to the group profiles, that can be a red flag.
· Names of employers can’t be verified in Google. First, check Google to see if the company names are real and have a real web site. Second, anyone who has been working for a while will have a trail of online bread crumbs in Google from accomplishments on the job, trade press and industry conferences, or even mainstream media reports. If these types of “hits” in a Google search are missing, keep the question mark front and center. A corresponding Facebook page is not evidence of a true profile on Linkedin.
· Are there any connections in common? Most people who contact you will have a connection or a group in common. The first type of link is more easily verified. Contact your connection in common and ask about the new contact. The second isn’t as strong because any fake profile can show up in any open group. A key question to ask is where is the person from? If they are from the greater Cleveland area, verification should be possible, but if they are from an overseas location, watch out.
· Lastly, does the profile have any recommendations and from who? Again, names of people who can be verified in the recommendations are a plus. The recommendations should tie back to the work history. If they don’t, or are generalized platitudes without reference to specifics, that could be a sign of a fake profile.
What to do if you decide a profile is a fake?
First, and foremost, do not confront the sender of a connection request directly with a message your think they are a fake. Do not reply to it. Second, if you think the fake profile has malicious intent, Linkedin has a mechanism for reporting fake profiles.
If you in good faith believe that content listed in the body of a member’s profile is inaccurate or unlawful, then you may complete the Notice of False Profile form.
Bear in mind that Linkedin is also wary of false reports about fake profiles so be really sure you have the necessary information to back up your claim.
In the end, false profiles are Linkedin’s problem, not yours. The easiest and safest response is to just walk away by deleting the offending connection request. Treat is as spam and move on.
If you get tangled up in a dispute over one, it can become a significant distraction from your business. If you, or your business, has been harmed by someone using a fake profile on Linkedin, your next step should be to consult an attorney for legal advice.
What about Facebook?
Linkedin isn’t the online online service to have a problem with fake profiles. According to an August 2012 report on CNN, Facebook said in a regulatory filing that it estimates it had at the time about 83 million fake profiles worldwide.
According to CNN, Facebook is trying to weed out false profiles because advertisers do not want to spend their money presenting their brands to ghosts.
“On Facebook we have a really large commitment in general to finding and disabling false accounts,” Facebook’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan told CNN in a recent interview. “Our entire platform is based on people using their real identities.”
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