An Epidemic Of Fake LinkedIn Profiles



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:

LinkedIn: the database that doesn’t decay and go bad

very early database

Rule number one for any database: it goes bad over time

…and at its core, LinkedIn is a database.

Today’s newsletter starts in the old paper catalog days, makes a side trip into the email database realm, and ends with LinkedIn, but I can do all this in three minutes, so stick with me.

My first high tech sales job was selling my employer’s low end products – those under a thousand dollars – through catalog companies. This was 1985, and there were maybe three dozen catalogs in North America specializing in the products we made, datacom and telecom test equipment. In each catalog I would typically be allotted a quarter, a third, or half a page for a photo of a product and the accompanying copy.

I learned a lot about the catalog business (these were my customers after all) and one of the basic principles was that their mail lists decayed at the rate of two percent every month. Every month two percent of the people on their mail list would change companies, jobs or addresses so that a catalog sent to them was undeliverable. If a catalog company had a hundred thousand people on their mail list, that’s two thousand people that disappeared every month, and sending two thousand catalogs out that were not going to generate any revenue was something these companies wanted to avoid. This monthly decay in their mail lists was a major cost for them.

So imagine my surprise when I was reading a post on Hubspot’s blog and they said statistics show that 22.5% of email databases go bad every year. Things haven’t changed much in 35 years!

So what does this have to do with LinkedIn? Just this:

LinkedIn is a database that updates itself. It is the exception to the database decay rule.

When someone changes jobs, one of the first things they do is change their LinkedIn profile (if this wasn’t the case you wouldn’t see recruiters paying eight thousand a year for access to LinkedIn’s recruiting tools). If I am connected to a thousand people on LinkedIn, on average around twenty of them are changing jobs, departments or locations every month. But I don’t lose them. They update their profiles, and LinkedIn even notifies me when connections get new jobs or promotions.

This is one of the things I love about LinkedIn as a database. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it is the most up to date one there is. LinkedIn is the place to search for people and the place to research those people.

But you actually have to do that work yourself. There are utilities and apps and extensions that will crow about how they can access LinkedIn, scrape the relevant data from profiles and they can also look for email addresses and phone numbers, but you risk the wrath of LinkedIn if they catch you using automated tools like that. If you are ever tempted to use automation on LinkedIn, I want to you to keep these three points in mind:

  1. The people that sell those tools aren’t the ones that get in trouble, it’s the people that use them on LinkedIn that do.
  2. The usual punishment for someone caught using these tools is being tossed off LinkedIn for good.
  3. LinkedIn signs up two new members every second. That means it will take LinkedIn half a second to replace you.

Take advantage of the LinkedIn database, but do it wisely.

Today’s newsletter is one of my shorter ones. Next week, one of my longer ones: My adventures discovering hundreds of fake LinkedIn Profiles in the past few weeks.

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. I have no idea why, but thanks for reading.

Want more like this? (the newsletter I mean, not the disclaimer) I publish a weekly email newsletter on using LinkedIn effectively for Sales and Marketing. Each newsletter typically contains two to four articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page:

LinkedIn Newsletters – What I Have Learned In 12 Months Of Publishing  

In late July 2020 I received an email from LinkedIn saying I now had publishing privileges for the LinkedIn Newsletter. I published my first LinkedIn Newsletter a couple weeks later. The tacit agreement you have with LinkedIn is that you publish on a regular basis and in return, LinkedIn will notify your subscribers when you publish. So I have had this thing for a year now and here are my (very opinionated) observations so far. 

When you publish your first issue, LinkedIn sends a notice to all of your connections and followers telling them you have a newsletter and offering them an opt in. It seems LinkedIn only does this the one time

I mentioned above that you have a tacit agreement with LinkedIn on publishing frequency. I have never tested this part as one of my core practices in publishing regularly is paying attention to the “regularly” part. I don’t know what, if anything, would happen to someone who failed to publish regularly. 

As of this writing I have just over 21,000 subscribers, with another 200 or so signing up each week. That’s the awesome part. There are some not so good parts. The first is that LinkedIn doesn’t really give you any tools to parse your subscribers. I can scroll through the list and that’s it. 

LinkedIn says they send a notification to all my subscribers whenever I publish, either on their mobile, via email or through their notifications on LinkedIn. It’s configurable. While I have heard from a few people saying they have not received notifications, it seems they are the exception, not the rule. I have no clue whether there is any distribution of the newsletter outside of the subscribers.

For each newsletter, I can view the same statistics we would see for a post or article – the number of reactions, comments and reshares, along with the vague stats on top companies my readers came from, where they are located and their job titles. I wish LinkedIn would provide statistics that were more valuable. For example, I would love to be able to see the distribution of my subscribers by title, function, geography, and company size. I would love to be able to see how many of my readers are regular readers. 

The one stat that is different and it’s a big difference is the number of “views”. In the case of LinkedIn newsletters, these are all the people who opened it. I can see that my newsletter from last week has been opened over 5700 times. That’s an open rate of around 27%. I don’t know how other LinkedIn newsletter writers do with their open rates, but this 27% area seems to be how I usually do. It’s lower than my email newsletter’s open rate but my gut feel is that my LinkedIn Newsletter subscribers are a little more ephemeral in terms of their interest than my email subscribers. One of the indicators for this is the fact that I get thirty new subscribers every day, but only one or two bother looking at my profile. 

And as I was able to ascertain a couple weeks ago, a goodly number of my subscribers really are ephemeral. I was able to identify a whole whack of fake LinkedIn profiles, a handful of which had signed up for my newsletter. I will have more on that little adventure in a future newsletter. So maybe we should be taking those subscriber numbers with a large grain of salt. 

I am also thinking that that “opens” percentage is going to become more important as the “open”  statistic looks to become less usable on email newsletters this fall (for more info on this, just look up changes Apple is making to their email utility).

I have found that with the LinkedIn Newsletter that I don’t have to publish opuses (is the plural of opus “opii” ?). I have the same attitude towards the newsletter that I have always had towards other publishing on LinkedIn – less is more. If I can explain some aspect or idea about using LinkedIn in three hundred words then that’s how long the newsletter is going to be. I have never had complaints that my writing is too long (though maybe I will today, as this edition is just shy of eleven hudnred words).

As someone who writes and publishes on LinkedIn, I think the LinkedIn Newsletter is a very good feature that has some drawbacks. As someone who also publishes a weekly email newsletter, I wish there was more information and feedback on the people who choose to unsubscribe like how many and why. 

LinkedIn says they are rolling this out to everyone. It is invite-only right now. I know a dozen people (out of the hundreds I know pretty well on LinkedIn) who also have the Newsletter feature. It seems to have been offered to people who have a track record of publishing regularly which makes sense. Maybe LinkedIn thinks these people will write better newsletters and keep it going (which is kind of important for a newsletter). I don’t know this to be the case but I had heard something similar was done with LinkedIn Live when it came out – you had to apply and LinkedIn was looking for people who were used to doing this type of thing already. They seemingly wanted it to look good for the masses. 

But…LinkedIn says they want to support Creators. And this rollout is taking forever. My only guess would be that LinkedIn is concerned that the newsletter will make a mess of some other program that either exists now or is in the works. Maybe newsletters will somehow sidetrack users and make them less available for sponsored content in the feed.

As a LinkedIn user, this is the feature that would truly allow me to curate and create a feed of content from the people I truly want to follow and whose content I want to be aware of. Having that ability would make me want to invest more time on LinkedIn and also get me more involved. I don’t think I am the only person who feels this way. 

LinkedIn has added a pile of new features in the past year – big deals like Creator Mode and Service Pages, and their Clubhouse killer is in the works. So why is the newsletter rollout so slow?