LinkedIn Fraud: I’d like to add you to my professional network of targets

Fraudulent scams preying on unsuspecting victims have become ubiquitous. While more and more people are becoming increasingly aware of Internet schemes, the culprits are getting craftier in their beguiling tricks and traps. While all these scams seem to focus on financial gain, it got me thinking about some that don’t seem to be financial-related. Consider, for instance, how fake LinkedIn profiles have become widespread lately.

Recently, a senior business analyst at a staffing agency in New York sent me a connection request through LinkedIn. It was nothing extraordinary, just the standard “I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network” message. As I normally do with unknown connection requests, I went out to his profile to learn more about this person and what business we could possibly have in common. After all, I’m surely not looking for a new job (for the record).

He had an exceptionally interesting photo – a dapper man in a polished suit working on his laptop sitting in the middle of what looked like the Grand Canyon, thoughtfully gazing off into the distance. Not one that I would typically associate with a “Senior Business Analyst” working in New York City. Curiously, I right-clicked his profile picture and selected “search Google for image” to find out a bit more about this photo.

Interestingly enough, this picture has also appeared on hundreds of other website pages as a stock photo image.

 

But that wasn’t the only anomalous characteristic I found on his profile.

There was an impeccable description of his company, detailing the background, target audience and value proposition – better than most company descriptions I’ve seen. He had more than 500 connections – 13 who were mutual high-profile contacts, including the president and CEO of a top accounting association, as well as top influencers in the accounting industry. Wow! I thought this guy must really know his stuff.

Digging further down into his education, he listed an MBA in Marketing from New York University. (Hmm. A finance professional with only a marketing degree.) He had several endorsements of various financial literacy skills and a certification in “Underground Marketing Management,” which made me wonder if this was a new way of marketing, perhaps illegally. Or maybe it’s like the underground marketing version of Fight Club…the first rule of Marketing Fight Club, you don’t talk about Marketing Fight Club.

As it turns out, the company he’s with is based in New Yor, NY. No typo on my end, folks. Coincidentally, all 109 employees that work with him in New Yor all share similar titles: Sr. Business Analyst, Business Analyst, Accountant and Enrolled Agent. Apparently, no executives work there.

And I thought I was special. Turns out, this is only one example of the hundreds of fake accounts on LinkedIn. All this trickery begs the question, Why? Why would someone set up a fake profile and build a network of professional contacts? Why would they take the time to reach out to connect? What could they possibly gain from all this?

The answer is the same as any other fraudulent scheme: it’s a scam. The goal of these fake accounts is to build credibility by mapping out a network of business professionals to initiate further connections. Once the connection is made, scammers scrape contact information from your profile, including personal and business email addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and other related profile details that can be used to send spear-phishing emails – or to sell your information. (Spear-phishing is the practice of sending emails from what appears to be a known or trusted sender to trick you into revealing confidential information.) They can also entice connections to “share” additional personal/business details and later direct them to malware-laden websites targeted to steal personal information. This is the reason they typically share mutual connections with you. Seems legit if they’re connected to CEOs in your industry, right?

What can you do?

Take the time to review unfamiliar connection requests. Look at the other employees that work at the company. These scammers are very good at disguising themselves as credible professionals, so be alert to some of these traits:

  1. Glamour photo or other photo that may resemble a stock image (military photos also used)
  2. Common names, sometimes with strange spellings (Mike Hille, Jak Anderson, Nik Cooper, Entegrity)
  3. Vague/Generic company name and description (although sometimes they copy actual company descriptions, as described in this article)
  4. Poor grammar, punctuation and capitalization (New Yor, names are all CAPS or all lowercase)
  5. Number of connections – typical trolls have low connections, but lately I’ve seen 500+ connections
  6. Mutual connections, but not always

If you’re still questioning the legitimacy of a profile, send a message asking how they found you. Real users – REAL PEOPLE — who are trying to expand their networks will understand your request and respond.

Below is what I typically send to unknown connections requests:

Hi NAME, thank you for the invitation to connect. May I ask how you came across my profile and/or why you feel I would make a valuable connection? I hope you don’t mind the inquiry, as I prefer to validate unknown connection requests to ensure they are from legitimate accounts and not aimed at sales or recruiting. Thank you, Stephanie Smith

For those who respond with a legitimate reason to connect, great. Welcome to my network. For those who don’t respond or come back with a poor reason to connect or solicitation, let’s just say I’m not afraid to press DECLINE or report the fake profile (if appropriate).

Remember, your network, whether you build it online or in the “real” world, is an important business asset that’s always worth protecting and maintaining. Now armed with this information, you might consider an evaluation of your connections to see who you really know and whether you need to remove a connection.

Connect with me on LinkedIn, but don’t be surprised if you receive a message validating your authenticity.

 

About the Authors

Stephanie E. Smith
Stephanie E. Smith
Marketing & Communications Specialist, Marketing Department

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