Why do Fake LinkedIn Profiles Exist?
Fake LinkedIn profiles are a growing concern that can be used to gain access to sensitive information, commit identity theft, or even engage in malicious activities.
Most people are familiar with the term "Fake it till you make it." Some LinkedIn users have taken this phrase to a new level by creating fake profiles. While some may do this for fun or malicious purposes, others do it to try and make money. Let's take a closer look at why these fake profiles exist.
A fake profile is defined as "A social networking profile that is created for fraudulent or deceptive purposes." These profiles are often created with the intention of scamming other users or businesses. Fake profiles can also be used to spread malware or collect information about users. In some cases, people create fake profiles in order to boost their egos and help their posts get bigger engagement.
Whatever the reason may be, it's important to be aware of the fact that not everyone on LinkedIn (or any other social media platform) is who they say they are.
When searching for a job, it's important to investigate the company and the person you're speaking with. A simple Google search can often reveal a lot about someone, and LinkedIn is no different.
Top Reasons Why Fake LinkedIn Profiles Exist
After writing the article in 2019 covering this topic, I was driven to dig deeper into the reasons why fake LinkedIn profiles exist. Time and time again, I came across false identities created by individuals/companies who used them to make their LinkedIn profiles seem more appealing than they really were.
They falsified work experience and personal records, and even created a new identity altogether! It was incredible how inventive some people had become with lying on their online profiles, so much that it made me wonder what other forms of deception could have been taking place right under our noses.
Even more troubling than the Internet scams was the prospect of someone using fake accounts to manipulate potential employers or sabotage existing ones. Through further research, I developed a better understanding of the sophistication and dangers posed by these fraudulent activities on such a professional platform as LinkedIn.
Here are the top reasons why people are creating fake LinkedIn profiles
Impersonating people or businesses
Some fake profiles are created to impersonate real people or businesses with the intention of tricking others into thinking they are interacting with the real entity. By pretending they are from a reputable company, they try to increase their trustworthiness and trick people into falling for their scam. Usually, it's a crypto scam or promoting some "Get rich scheme."
Some fake profiles are created to trick users into sharing personal information or login credentials through phishing scams. One of the popular things these days is to use an official LinkedIn shortener (lnkd.in) to seem legit. (source: avanan.com)
Harassment or cyberbullying
Some fake profiles are created to harass or bully others on LinkedIn, which can lead to a negative experience for the victim. The more you are active on LinkedIn, the higher the chance is that you will attract haters, and sometimes this could turn into harassment.
Spamming/Sell and Offer Services
Some fake profiles are created to spam others with unwanted messages or links. Over the years, I have seen people promoting their businesses, personal sites, articles/posts, and many other things, like a crypto scams, fake investments, etc.
Run 419 Scams
Fake profiles also share the same old scam messages we all know, such as the Nigerian Letter or the "419” scam. Users receive a message stating that the sender has an "offer" for them or that they have won something and need to contact the sender for instructions on how to collect their prize (usually money).
Create Databases of Profiles
You think your LinkedIn profile is just a resume, but it's so much more! We're all giving away our info to LinkedIn without even knowing it — and they are making loads of dough from these services. But wait, there's more: tech companies out there actually scrap data off users' profiles to resell for their monetary gain. Crazy, huh?
If you missed the LinkedIn v. HiQ six-year legal battle, you could find out more about it on Wikipedia. In short, LinkedIn argued that HiQ’s data scraping activities violated the terms of their user agreement. HiQ responded with a lawsuit against LinkedIn, claiming that the latter illegally denied it access to public profiles. (source: businessmanchester.co.uk)
This is a company that was identified, albeit hundreds of others are still doing that because this is the only way they can access the data on your LinkedIn profile. One of the companies is doing that on a crazy scale, so when you change a job, and you are connected with their fake profile (without knowing), you will receive a GDPR email from them confirming that your data is stored in their database.
So, when you accept a fake LinkedIn connection, you give access to your entire LinkedIn profile. Those fake connections (robots) visit your profile once a quarter to see if you made some updates, changed positions, and more. If you did, then they update their databases. Even some of those Chrome plugins you are using do that, and you help them to scrape LinkedIn.
That data is sold to other companies as, for example, resume databases or lists of managers that they can target with investment offers. The companies offering investments are often in offshore locations, and they use the data to target "customers" more effectively. If you watched the movie, Boiler Room, then you have an idea of how this system works.
Create Fake Candidates and Employees
It's a modern-day Wild West out there – some corporations are going to extremes, building fake identities on LinkedIn to connect with unsuspecting developers. They're posing as fellow coders in an attempt to pry contact details or offer their services!
If you are a developer, for example, you are more likely to accept a LinkedIn connection request from other developers than from recruiters. Some companies, therefore, pose as developers and offer other developers access to their platform where they can search for a job.
Faking the Company's Size
When it comes to seeking investors, some startups can get really creative in their approach. I once encountered a company trying this stunt – creating fake profiles and photos as part of its sales strategy. But when they asked me for a call with the owner, I requested to have their sales rep present on the call as well. And because the person was fake, the conversation never happened.
One company that copied my article used its fake profile to pose as a certain firm's HR rep, but that person didn't exist. I found out later that three people from that company operated the profile and were reaching candidates through it.
Beating LinkedIn Limits
Creating fake leads for sales
LinkedIn puts some connection limits in place. So, if you are a sales rep, you can only send 100 connection requests per week. But if you create ten fake LinkedIn profiles, you can send 10x more LinkedIn connection requests.
Once, I encountered a company of five that had 42 LinkedIn profiles (37 fake profiles), which basically acted as salespeople, reaching out to potential customers, and if somebody answered, they set up a meeting with their company's owner or one of the real salespeople.
Avoiding LinkedIn Jail
If you do not know, LinkedIn is not a fan of many Chrome extensions that could scrape data or reveal the email addresses of their users. By using these Chrome extensions, LinkedIn could put you into LinkedIn jail. They will suspend your LinkedIn profile for several hours or even days.
Therefore, some recruiters use fake profiles when they utilize those Chrome extensions. Those fake profiles are like empty shells — they only have a name. The recruiters access candidates' profiles through that fake profile and use those extensions without fearing their primary LinkedIn profile will be blocked.
Some fake profiles are created to spread false information or propaganda with the intention of influencing others. Luckily you won't see as many fake profiles on LinkedIn as on Facebook or Twitter. And if you see them, they focus primarily on misinformation related to Russian, Chinese, or Health-related propaganda.
Some companies may create fake profiles to conduct market research, such as gathering information on competitors or industry trends.
Creating fake online reviews or testimonials
Some fake profiles may be created to post fake online reviews or testimonials for products or services in an attempt to mislead potential customers.
Spying on Competitors
There are many cases in which recruitment agencies create fake profiles on LinkedIn to pose as other candidates. They try to get information from companies about how much they pay their workers or their competitors about their clients. They use their fake profiles to get the names of competing agencies' customers and the salaries they offer.
Sometimes, it's easy to find the companies behind the fake profiles. They don't realize that they could hurt their brand a lot when they are exposed. They think it's worth the risk.
Hacking and Clandestine Operation
Some fake profiles are created to gain access to other users' accounts or systems through hacking or other means. So, you should not open every file you receive or visit every link you get!
LinkedIn is a great site for identity theft. You can get the email address of the target and their birthday, and if the scammer poses as a friend and chats with the target, the scammer can get some extra information that they can use to hack into your account or pose as you.
Recruit spies and get secrets
Spy agencies all over the world are using LinkedIn to connect with their targets for various reasons. A New York Times article mentioned how Chinese agents are contacting thousands of foreign citizens, including former government officials, using LinkedIn.
If you are a sourcer or recruiter, then you know how easy it is to find people with top-level clearance on LinkedIn. People with that type of clearance publicly share that fact, making it easy for spy agencies to target those individuals.
Some fake profiles may be created to gain the trust of other users in order to extract personal information or resources from them. They might even try to gain access to restricted information, such as company financials, confidential documents, or intellectual property.
Some fake profiles are created to engage in fraudulent activities, such as identity theft, money laundering, or other illegal undertakings.
Offer fake jobs
There are a number of cases in which the people behind fake profiles pose as recruiters from well-known companies and offer jobs to candidates. If a candidate is interested in the job offer, the scammers "interview" them to create an illusion that everything is legit. When the candidate accepts the role, the scammers ask for a deposit for the phone and laptop that will supposedly be sent to the applicant.
Sadly, those scammers use more of these tricks, like asking for a bribe to present the candidate’s application to the hiring manager, to collect money from desperate job seekers.
Even though this is not a scam related to job seekers, it is good to mention it so you know how it works.
The scam revolves around one person pretending to be someone else for an online job - so a senior developer might get hired by several companies, but somebody with less experience actually does the work. The pretender manages to avoid video calls or other confirmation methods by providing such excuses as poor connection issues.
There are companies who already have experience with this scam, and I wouldn't be surprised if more experience the same. Several of my recruiter friends already have a similar experience with these "candidates."
Perform Various Tests
Last but not least, one of the reasons for those profiles is to perform various tests. You need data to make decisions. Recruiting is no exception, which explains why recruiters sometimes create profiles for tests – so they can see how job seekers and other recruitment teams approach their craft in different locations or situations. Ultimately, it all boils down to conducting harmless experiments that lead to better decision-making – but only if those test accounts are promptly removed afterward or not used to scam people.
How to Spot a Fake LinkedIn Profile
Being aware of the signs of a fake profile can go a long way in helping protect yourself from being scammed on LinkedIn. Look out for incomplete profiles with missing information, limited or no connections, and endorsements from people you don't know. If any of these signs show up in a profile you are interacting with, be sure to report it as fake and stay away. Fake profiles always exist, but you can protect yourself from being taken advantage of by knowing what to look for.
You can also read this article I wrote about this topic: How to Spot a Fake LinkedIn Profile
Be a Part of the Solution
You can report fake LinkedIn profiles to the site so that they can be removed. Trying to make the most of your LinkedIn profile helps you to be vigilant against fake accounts. It can be disconcerting and a drain on time dealing with unreliable sources and people who are out to manipulate you for their agenda. Thankfully, LinkedIn takes this seriously and gives you a chance to report any suspicious profile that may not be real. By doing so, they can swiftly remove it from their system and keep everything safe, secure, and up-to-date. That way, you don't have to worry about clicking on a link sent by someone pretending to know you; if it looks suspicious, just report it and get it out of the way!
LinkedIn is a great platform for networking and connecting with potential employers, but it's important to be aware of the fake profiles on the site. Some people create fake profiles to earn money by selling their services, while others use them to collect information about you or spread spam. You can avoid being scammed by fake profiles by knowing the features of a fake profile, such as an incomplete profile, a lack of connections, and endorsements from people you don't know. If you come across a fake profile, you can report it to LinkedIn so it can be removed.
Have you ever come across a fake LinkedIn profile? How did you know it was fake? Share your experience in the comments section below!
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