An Epidemic Of Fake LinkedIn Profiles

 

Prologue

I would like you to meet Emily Barber. I found Emily among my new subscribers to this LinkedIn newsletter a few weeks ago. Have a good look at Emily’s LinkedIn Profile. We will come back to Emily in a moment.

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As part of my morning routine, I review the list of new people who have signed up for my LinkedIn newsletter.  One morning in late July, two people showed up with the exact same headline structure. Emily was one of them.

This struck me as incongruous, so I looked at both of their LinkedIn profiles. You have seen Emily’s. Now let’s have a look at Alma Orosco, who also signed up for my newsletter on the same day as Emily Barber:

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I would draw your attention to the following:

  • Emily and Alma feature the same headline structure…right down to the brackets, exclamation point and rocket ship emoji
  • They each have a vaguely high tech but abstract banner image
  • They are both CEO & Founders with a bullet point list of responsibilities
  • They have each had one previous job
  • Both of them speak three languages
  • Both have Master’s degrees
  • Both have almost no LinkedIn connections
  • And of course, both decided to subscribe to my LinkedIn newsletter the same day.

Conclusion: these are non-people, fake profiles, the LinkedIn undead.

Then I wondered, well, if there are two, are there more?

So I did a LinkedIn People search as follows:

Keywords: “CEO & Founder” AND “(we’re hiring!)” Comment: this should find profiles with the same headline as Emily and Alma.

Geography: USA Comment: both profiles were U.S. based

Connection level: 3rd+ Comment: No or very few connections makes it likely any such profiles would be a 3rd degree connection

Yikes, Look At Them All

Result: Hundreds of people showed up in my search results. But the people on the first page of results sure seemed real – they had activity, lots of connections, heck, a lot of them had premium LinkedIn subscriptions. So it seemed like I was finding real flesh and blood LinkedIn users. But then as I continued to page through the results I hit this page…

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This was the first of many pages of results that looked exactly like this one. Someone’s been busy.

Time To Call In The Cavalry

So I had found a couple fake profiles, and suspected I had found over a hundred more, but I had a dilemma. If I were to report either one of the original two fakes individually, the profile may look odd, but it is only when you see the two (or more) of them together that you are certain that they are fakes. So I sent an InMail to someone in the LinkedIn Trust and Safety team explaining what I had found and why I wasn’t using the auto-reporting system. I also noted that I thought there were hundreds of these things on LinkedIn, with more being generated every day.

That got their attention.

Someone in Trust and Safety reached out to me and we set up a phone call where I went through everything I had found, sent them links to more POTU (Profiles Of The Undead), and went over the search I used to find them all.

Having thus left this with Trust and Safety, I figured that was the end of my little Zombie adventure.

I was wrong.

Well, I Didn’t This One Coming  

A couple weeks later, over a two day period, I gained 112 new subscribers to my newsletters. With my newfound Zombie identification skills, I could immediately see that 12 of them were suspicious looking.

But there was a twist: All of the suspects were now employees of a single company. So I had a look at the employees from that company. Here is a sample page of my results.

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I did a few further people searches on the employees for this company and there were a few….peculiarities.

The company in question has 467 employees listed on LinkedIn.

450 of them…

  • Are either product managers or senior product managers
  • Are scattered all across the USA.
  • Are all women
  • With Masters degrees
  • They all have experience working at exactly one previous company
  • Stop me if you have heard this before: they all speak three languages

One final thing: of the 467 employees at this company?

446 of them joined LinkedIn between July 18 and August 18, 2021.

Now maybe this company is looking to develop a work at home product management team strategically placed all around the country. And maybe they specifically want people with Masters degrees who have only worked at one other place in their lives and speak three languages. And every single one of these product management types had, prior to their employment with this company, not been a LinkedIn member. But then maybe, they all got together and went, “Oh, yeah, we should all join LinkedIn at the same time.”

But I doubt it.

So I reported all of them too.

I have obscured the company name here as I found a couple companies on LinkedIn with very similar company names that do not appear to have any connection or affiliation with the Zombie people.

Why Do These Fakes Exist?

The original “we’re hiring!” fakes I found make me think about data or identity theft. If I say I’m hiring and you send me your resume, you have voluntarily given me a lot of useful information.

In the second set of company specific profiles, the profiles are heavy on their advertising for the company in question. So in the second instance, these are not so much profiles as billboards.

What Can LinkedIn Users Do? 

I had the benefit of seeing a couple of these together which prompted my search efforts. I also have the tools and experience to be able to do some of the searches that were needed. I am also curious and very, very stubborn. Calling “Shenanigans” on these things is second nature to me by now.

But there are a few things you can look for. None of these may be a deal breaker by themselves, but the little things add up.

  • Look for odd, or stilted writing

Here’s a typical opening line from one of these profiles: “I am a highly skilled CTO with a storied history in the technological sector.” It just sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?

  • Look for incongruous data

In the fake CEO and Founder profiles, a good example was the three languages. Often when you see a LinkedIn user talking about knowing two or more languages, there are obvious clues as to how or where they learned a second or third language – they studied abroad, or they had sepnt time for their employer in a different country, or at least they were a language major in school. The languages on the fake profiles I found just seemed…random.

  • Look for connections and activity on LinkedIn

My general rule of thumb here is that if it takes work, a fake profile will tend to be thin on those attributes.

  • Look for unknown companies online

Lastly, here is something that can work if you see someone from a startup company, or a company name you don’t recognize. Just Google the company name. In the case of my “we’re hiring!” fakes, you have someone claiming to have been the CEO of their company for 6-8 years, yet the company doesn’t have a website.

What Can LinkedIn do?

I think LinkedIn Trust and Safety is in a thankless position. If they have a pattern pointed out to them like I was able to, then they can get rid of fakes en masse. Otherwise for the most part they have to depend on you and I coming across the fakes and letting T&S know. But they have a thornier problem with automation. Automation companies don’t break the LinkedIn service agreement, LinkedIn users do when they use this stuff.

But there are things that I think LinkedIn could do:

1) write more often and let users know what they are doing about this stuff. If LinkedIn Engineering can have a blog, why can’t Trust and Safety?

2) As part of this, LinkedIn Trust & Safety should publish a post talking about how T&S has deleted X number of fake profiles, and suspended Y number of people for using or being suspected of using automation. I don’t know about you, but I would be very grateful that LinkedIn is actively tossing the spam kings and queens. The goal would be educating and reassuring the LinkedIn membership that T&S is on the case. Scaring the sh*t out of possible transgressors? That’s a bonus.

3) Trust & Safety may not be able to take action on the Automation companies involved outside of LinkedIn, but they sure can on their activities within LinkedIn. Automation tool company pages and all their employees should be banned. Surely, isn’t having these companies encouraging LinkedIn users to break the terms of service agreement reason enough? I had a client say he was going to use one of these tools. I told him they were illegal under the terms of service. He pointed out that if these tools were illegal, why did LinkedIn allow the tool company to have a company page to talk about their services? He had me there.

I have other ideas as to how Trust and Safety could identify these clowns, and welcome them to contact me again.

This whole little exercise has taught me three things:

  • There are more fake profiles on LinkedIn than I thought. And they are getting better. Everyone needs to be vigilant.
  • Trust and  Safety has a tough job. They do it pretty well, but they need our help.
  • I am now thoroughly sceptical of anyone who says “we’re hiring!” in their Profile headline. And if you ask me to connect but have a rocket ship emoji on your profile, don’t get your hopes up.

The obligatory disclaimer: I do not work for or have any association with LinkedIn, other than being a user who pays them for his Sales Navigator subscription every month. For some reason LinkedIn gave me early access to the LinkedIn Newsletter, though I am beginning to wonder how many of my subscribers aren’t real.

I publish a weekly email newsletter on using LinkedIn effectively for Sales and Marketing. Each newsletter typically contains two or three articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page: https://practicalsmm.com/contact/