Why Do Fake Profiles Exist?
Advances in AI-based synthetic image generation technology and AI-based image generators have created an unlimited number of unique, high-quality fake profiles on LinkedIn that do not correspond to real people.
Fake accounts sometimes use these convincing, AI-generated profile photos to make their fake LinkedIn profile appear more authentic. All to get you to connect so the bad actors can cause havoc. Even the FBI has chimed in that spam accounts on LinkedIn pose a threat.
Worse yet, they may be compromising your business results.
Fake profiles waste valuable time, open you up to scammers, clog up your newsfeed and even put your own profile and network at risk.
With LinkedIn’s importance to many industries and businesses, understanding how to avoid fake profiles in your network is an important part of your success in networking and marketing.
Scammers Prey on LinkedIn Because it's an Easy Mark
Have you been infested with bogus profiles attempting to connect with you? While it may be flattering at first, if you accept these random invites, you are putting your own account and identity at risk.
They can easily assume someone else's identity by piecing together information about you, such as your name, workplace, and location. They can then use your details to create more fake profiles.
Email harvesting was the primary cause for a few years, but with GDPR and CPPA, LinkedIn made it more difficult to access people's email addresses, unless the LinkedIn member has agreed to share their email data. Check your privacy settings to make sure they are aligned with your goals.
Once a scammer has established a connection with you, they may send messages to your inbox containing phishing links that could be a real problem if clicked. Here's LinkedIn's position on Phishing Emails.
Scammers build trustworthiness with every connection accepted. If a scammer reaches out to you and is already connected with people you know, you are more likely to accept the invite. Or should you? This is why it's imperative to thoroughly vet your connection requests to confirm the sender profile is legit.
Before You Accept That LinkedIn Connection Run This 3-Step Test
The use of AI-generated images means that the picture in the profile may not even be a real person. But you can still usually spot a fake—if you know what to look for.
1. Profile Test
Although an invitation to connect can be flattering, before you click accept, take the time to check for authenticity. The first step is to actually look at their full LinkedIn profile. While fake profiles are getting better, there are still often some common signs that it's not a legit profile.
Use a reverse Google image search or TinEye to see if their profile picture is being used elsewhere under another name.
Look to see if the profile either incomplete or impersonal or just too good to be true?
Check to see if their education and work history are logically connected.
Review for internal inconsistencies, like dates, companies or locations that don’t make sense.
Scan for suspicious or incomplete information. Spelling and phrasing errors as well as generic terminology are reason to be suspicious.
When you come across a profile you think is nefarious, report it and then block it.
While some of these things may also be a result of a poorly written profile rather than a fake one, you are looking for patterns. If you see any red flags, then you will want to review their activity, content and network to verify further.
As a part of LinkedIn's effort to combat fake profiles they recently announced a new “About this profile.” According to their announcement, it shows you “when a profile was created and last updated” and “whether the member has verified a phone number and/or work email associated with their account.” Be sure to check this out as a part of your screening process.
2. Content Test
Content is harder and is more time intensive to actually fake unless of course they are using ChatGPT to write their posts. If it reads like a robot wrote it, trust your gut. Fake profiles typically don’t do more than liking or re-sharing posts. Their comments may even be generic or very short.
Scroll through their recent posts and history to look for these red flags.
See if they are posting content and does it align with their profile description?
If their invite message to you is overly enthusiastic or filled with spelling and grammar errors, chances are it is not genuine.
If they only share links without any comments, look to see what type of content and see if anyone is actually engaging with it.
See if their posts have responses and do they respond to those engaged users?
Look for comments they have written on other people’s posts.
Have they sent you information with overly personal or formal language? (Such as “Hello my dear” or “Dear Sir or Ma’am”). If so, report these profiles using this form to get them taken down.
Are they making unrealistic pitches that seem too good to be true. Again, trust your gut. If so, report these profiles using this form to get them taken down.
As of Q4-2022, it's encouraging to see that LinkedIn is flagging suspicious messages using their own AI modeling. If something reads too good to be true, that's probably correct.
3. Network Test
The final area you can check on a LinkedIn profile is to check out their network.
Do they have too few connections? A genuine user has a network related to their interests. A large network with a random collection of people is cause for concern.
Does the profile have any followers in addition to connections?
Are there some LinkedIn recommendations written, and do they seem genuine and relevant to the rest of the profile?
Do you have any mutual shared connections? Do you know any of these people?
The bottom line: Real people have connections and relationships with real people.
If you believe that the account reaching out to you is fake, be a good social media community member and report it. The more that we can proactively report these profiles using this form to get them taken down, the better the LinkedIn environment is for all of us.
Protecting Your Account and Identity
LinkedIn is in early stages of rolling out their new verification features giving members the ability to:
Verify your identity with CLEAR and show it on your LinkedIn profile
Verify where you work with your company email
Verify where you work with Microsoft Entra
Here are things you can do right now to protect your account:
Use a strong password that is unique to LinkedIn.
Regularly review your privacy and security settings.
Turn on two-factor authentication for your logins.
Set up Google Alerts for your name and your company.
Check to see where else you are signed in to make sure there aren't unauthorized active sessions.
Periodically do a reverse image search with your own profile picture to see if it shows up in places it shouldn’t.
Our Most Valuable Asset is Our Data - Protect it Wisely!
Spotting the fakes is a good first step, but you also want to protect your data and information. Your online reputation and connections are valuable business assets and should be treated as such.
If you are not already, make sure that you are regularly downloading your data and information from LinkedIn. This can help you recover your account in case you do encounter a security breach.
LinkedIn continues to be one of the most powerful tools in your B2B professional marketing toolbox for business connections with 930+ million members worldwide. As of Q1 2023, more than 58 million companies are listed on LinkedIn, giving users a wealth of options for finding opportunities.
Don’t let your experience be spoiled or compromised by fake accounts, bots or spammers. I can't say it enough - proactively report fake profiles using this form to get them taken down, the better the LinkedIn environment is for all of us.
Have a Networking Strategy
Most of us would not walk the street inviting random strangers over for dinner. Or embark on a journey without a GPS navigation system. In the same way, you need to use discretion about who you invite into your space and connect with in your network. This is your cultivated space.
It is worth taking the extra time to value quality over quantity.
Trust But Always Verify
Before you hit that "accept" button, take the time to verify. Look at their profile, their activity, their content and their network. Adding a bogus connection to your curated network adds ZERO VALUE.
Make sure to protect your own account.
Don't collect connections! Spend time building engagement and relationships with your existing network. When you do these things, you will continue to see LinkedIn as an effective tool for your professional brand and your business growth.
© 2023 Judi Hays. All Rights Reserved. A shorter version of this article appeared in Forbes Magazine
ABOUT JUDI RADICE HAYS
Judi Radice Hays is a sought-after certified LinkedIn strategist, author of 'Elevate, Expand, Engage,' a Refreshingly Different Approach to Winning on LinkedIn’ and regular Forbes contributor.
Judi is known for successfully turning underperforming LinkedIn profiles into prospect-attracting powerhouses. Judi helps business executives identify their audience, elevate their LinkedIn profile and personal brand.
Judi consults with businesses that sell high-ticket professional services in high-trust selling environments. Through her proprietary methods, Judi guides her clients strategy to build authority, credibility, and trust which ultimately leads to increased revenue with her expertise.
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