Beware Imposters – They’re on LinkedIN, Too!

They are good at creating the illusion of an appealing profile, most likely because they steal photos from successful professionals, make up names that sound dignified, and create credible résumés – cadged from the millions of samples available online. But they are still the same dodgy little spammers and lonely hearts scammers you know and despise from Facebook and other back alleys of the Web.

I didn’t used to understand why companies discouraged LinkedIN use. Now, I get it. I recently saw the (fake) profile of an attractive businesswoman claiming to be an upper-level manager with a large, international company. A number of the real executives at that same company had connected with her, giving her the appearance of legitimacy. You’d connect with a colleague if several of your company’s vice presidents had connected with her, right? The problem is, she doesn’t exist. There is no record of her within that company. Even executives fail to do their due diligence, so don’t beat yourself up too much if you’ve been duped.

I normally ignore requests from people I don’t know. Most of my connections are people I know professionally, family, and friends I’ve met in person. When it comes to connections I’ve only met online, I want to feel I could honestly say something positive about that person to a prospective client or employer – not just “We’ve been chatting about hobbies, sports, and politics on Facebook since 2009!” The bar is not exceedingly high, but it’s not an open gate. In short, I’m not a LinkedIN LION (they say it stands for “LinkedIN Open Networker” but I say it stands for opening lots of doors for scam artists). LinkedIN is rapidly becoming just another social network – for working adults – and we should all be a little less trusting of those connections.

Earlier this week, I got a questionable LinkedIN invitation – I won’t single out any names, because the names and profile photos are generally stolen from nice men and women (or professional models) who have no idea they’ve been so badly used. This one, at least, wasn’t pictured standing in the doorway of his private jet, or drinking cocktails on a yacht, or wearing military fatigues and cuddling puppies and children. No – this guy used a photo of roustabouts working hard in an oil field to go along with the title of “senior drilling engineer.” I suspect that’s meant to be a double-entendre, a little in-joke with his scammer buddies; no wonder some men feel threatened by women smart enough to roll their eyes at the joke.

We had two mutual connections, though – both local, smart, professional women I know. I wrote to both women and asked if I’d be offending a real-life friend of theirs by ignoring (and reporting and blocking) the request. They were appalled and deleted him immediately – one confirmed that he had sent her the usual, “Hello, beautiful…” private message, after she had mistakenly accepted his request.

In my experience, men are even more likely to accept new and unknown-to-them connections on LinkedIN. It’s rarer for women to drop their guard – especially for complete strangers – but at the same time, we don’t like conflict, don’t want to hurt others’ feelings, and are less likely to shout out from the fortress walls, “Halt! Who goes there?” We’ll just ignore you if our spidey senses are tingling.

Well, not all of us. Some of us will question, challenge, report, and block you. Bye-bye, Mr. Senior Drilling Engineer who probably doesn’t work for any oil company on the planet and soon won’t have a LinkedIN account. 

You’ve heard the expression, “Trust and verify”? I’d urge you to flip that around, especially on LinkedIN: “Verify, then trust.” Think twice, too, before accepting any connection on social media solely on the strength of the fact that you have “mutual connections” there.

My friend Scott Hartsman wrote a post, back in 2009, that I think has even more value today: LinkedIn for Pragmatists: Why I Stopped Recommending. It’s worth a read; preferably before you click “Endorse” or write a recommendation for a friend or hire someone because they have a million endorsements for the very skill you required in that Help Wanted ad. I treasure the recommendations I have, because I know they are real and they mean a lot to me personally – but I would not expect a hiring manager to take them at face value. The same goes for the handful I’ve written for others, over the years – they are honest and sincere and I back every word wholeheartedly. Scott’s post gives me pause, though. I no longer ask for, or write, public recommendations on LinkedIN, because I’ve seen the truth of what he says, in action.

Endorsements are even worse, in a way – you log in and LinkedIN presents you with a random set of four connections and asks if you’d endorse these people for certain skills. You don’t have to prove that you’ve ever worked with them in that capacity or have any ability, yourself, by which to judge their expertise. Just click a button. Click, click, click. Sure, of course, why not? They’re good and trusted connections… wait, what? I’m pretty sure my old pal John Q. Smith has absolutely no experience in underwater welding…

I’d take LinkedIN endorsements with a whole shaker of salt, if I were hiring. Again, it’s rather sweet to see that my friends have “endorsed” me in writing, communications, blogging, social media – but I’d expect a hiring manager to verify, then trust. It’s easy to click a button. It’s much harder to be asked over the phone and have to stammer out, “Well, I haven’t actually talked to Susie in twenty years, but what I remember was what a hard worker she was. You know, I don’t think Susie ever took more than an hour for lunch. Yeah, I think she did something with computers. I don’t remember what…”

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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19 thoughts on “Beware Imposters – They’re on LinkedIN, Too!”

  1. They only reason I have a LinkedIn account is because I launched a start up. In the beginning, I was a little naive and was a LION. I called myself being smart getting a bunch of connections. Three years, I’ve gotten a bit more savvy. I only add those in my line of work and I verify who they are by their company’s directory. I’m looking for potential clients and marketing, so I don’t have time for people pitching me the latest MLM. Also, I took down my picture because I got tired of getting propositioned. I think there’s still some legitimacy to the site but you have to be smart and scrutinize everyone.

    1. Absolutely, there’s still some legitimacy to the site. But I think it has lost its focus and has opened itself (and its members) to abuse. At first, I welcomed the loosening of restrictions on how you could make contact with people you knew – I would sometimes run across a former colleague and not know their current email address, making it nearly impossible to reach out and connect. You had to pay to send “InMail” – I never bothered. But then we got “social media games” like EmpireAvenue.com. That’s a fun little site and I enjoy most of the connections I made there – but it encourages people to connect, endorse, “Like,” “Tweet,” and promote in ways that are not always natural and well thought-out. I would never trade, or ask anyone to trade, their professional integrity for fake currency in a game. But some would, quite happily.

      It’s a shame that you felt you had to take down your profile photo. That is one of the elements I look for in any social media profile when judging whether I think it’s legit and trustworthy (note that just having one doesn’t cut it, and if it’s TOO slick or seems “off” somehow, it’s still a red flag). It’s just one of many things I look at, but as with Twitter – who friends an EGG on Twitter?? – it’s an indicator that someone took at least a little time, thought, and care in setting up the profile.

      I know you offline as well as on – I can verify independently that you are you – so I’m okay with you not having a profile pic. But there’s always that flipside. Maybe you should just practice looking “unapproachable” in your professional headshot? 🙂 No…that probably isn’t the solution, either.

  2. That is a surprise! I perceived LinkedIn to be a step above the rest of the social networks. In hindsight though, there have been a few suspect invitations, which I ignored, all from people claiming to be social media gurus. Haven’t met any “drilling engineers” yet, but I’ll be ready for ’em! 😉
    Debbie D. recently posted…LEAVES – PHOTO FRIDAYMy Profile

    1. Keep your guard up! I don’t know about “step above” – depends on what you’re looking for in a social network, right? Each has its “culture” and atmosphere. LinkedIN was originally (and still purports to be) for professional networking. I think in their attempts to expand the user base, they’ve inadvertently encouraged people to think of it as more of a social hangout than a professional one. And I think networking can benefit to some degree from having a watercooler – you know? Not being too buttoned-up and inhibited to socialize at all. But they may go too far.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Weight Off My MindMy Profile

      1. By “step above” I meant a better class of people, ie. no imposters and/or trolls. My guard is certainly up now, after reading your post, Holly. I resisted joining for a long time, as I wasn’t looking for a job and had left the corporate world years ago. Then I noticed many bloggers and writers were using it and thought it would be good exposure. Hopefully the riff raff will be kept at bay.
        Debbie D. recently posted…THE COMPUTER IS A WONDERFUL INVENTION!My Profile

      2. And I think that was (mostly) the case, for years. But it’s been changing since the IPO, I think. What I am guessing is that they want to sell more premium memberships, and those may be perceived as the way to avoid or eliminate the riff-raff. So it makes sense, then, to attract or permit the riff-raff in the first place, and put all the “bouncers” at the door to the premium lounge.

  3. I get those all the time also but they’re so easy to identify that I just report them as spam and move on with life. It’s a little harder dealing with the trolls that comment on an article you’ve written because you can’t delete comments there, but those are easily ignored. Still, I wonder how they stay past LinkedIn screeners for such a long period of time…

    Overall though I’d have to say my recent LinkedIn experience has been wonderful, though not perfect. It’s still the place to be for business… actually, in today’s world it’s really the only place to be for business. 🙂
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…Idolatry; Scary For Leaders And ManagersMy Profile

    1. As LinkedIN grows, it’s going to be hard to keep enough paid screeners to handle things like this. Look at what Facebook staff have to deal with! We all ought to do our part in reporting misuse of the resource, so that maybe people will get the message. I long for the days when my biggest complaint about LI was all the 19 year olds whose most important job description to date was that they were “CEO” of their blogspot blogs.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Beware Imposters – They’re on LinkedIN, Too!My Profile

  4. I have had a few friends “invite” me to LinkedIn, but I’m not interested.

    Being in a position where I have no need to network professionally, I’ve not seen any real reason to belong to LinkedIn. In searching on line for some old “friends,” the only place I’ve found a few of them is LinkedIn, but that isn’t enough of a reason for me to join yet another social network. I wasn’t really looking for them to link back up — it was more curiosity about whether they were still alive or not.
    Mike Goad recently posted…“Are you okay?”My Profile

  5. I was more or less forced into joining Linkedin due to pressure from people who wanted me to be there to give me as reference. I got quite fed up with the notifications and requests for links coming in and I removed myself from it a year ago but was once again more or less arm twisted into joining up for a similar purpose. I joined up and quit again after a couple of months when my link’s purpose was served. I can offer nothing to any professional other than a reference and I want nothing from being a member so I am perfectly happy without any linked in connections.
    Rummuser recently posted…Skill Development.My Profile

    1. And now you can point them to that post by Scott Hartsman as a diplomatic way to say, “No, if you really want a reference, have your prospective employer contact me by phone. Thanks.” Teach them to do it the old-fashioned way. I have heard that recruiters and employers care about “Recommendations” and “Endorsements,” but what that tells me is that either they are not all that hip to the ways of the Internet, or they want to see how popular you are on it. I think it does speak to whether you have connections and are well-liked. I am less convinced that it says anything at all about your skills and work ethic. Maybe they should’ve just put a “Sure, I’d work with this person!” button up there first. We could all click it, feel good about each other, and move on.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Weight Off My MindMy Profile

  6. I like recommendations and have traded with others. I refuse to participate in endorsements, however. I almost considered starting when LI first started the feature, but noticed LI offered up people I never worked with in any capacity. Sooo, endorsements on my profile are strictly unsolicited. I’m often surprised when I receive recommendations for skills from people whom I’ve never worked with, who have never seen my work, and those whom I haven’t worked with for at least five years. What value can these recs be for prospective employers?

    1. Sometimes LI can be downright pushy about it, too. You log in and it practically demands you endorse a random set of people for whatever skills it proposes. It’s the professional equivalent of a Facebook “Like.” It means something from some people – but a prospective employer would not have any way of knowing which endorsements are meaningful and which are not. So again, some mornings I get notified that someone I know well has “endorsed” me, and it makes me smile – it’s a little boost over coffee – but I don’t expect anyone to take it seriously when making a hiring decision. It does say that I have a lot of connections who don’t think I’m an idiot or a terrible person – but why would they connect with me at all, there, if they thought that?
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Beware Imposters – They’re on LinkedIN, Too!My Profile

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