Recently LinkedIn.com announced that they have now over 100 million profiles online. However, many of the 100 million profiles are probably "bots", fake profiles created by unscrupulous people for nefarious purposes. In fact, there's a special term for such fake profiles: flinkedin
Here we will go over some reasons why such fake profiles exist, what are the signs of such fake profiles, and how you can spot such fakes online. Hopefully, you will check your own profile to make sure it doesn't look fake.
While the article is written primarily for LinkedIn, most of the tips can be applied to other social networks as well.
Why have a fake profile at all?
There are many reasons on why people create fake profiles or include fake references, and these are just some examples (not in any particular order):
- to disguise true identity
ex: a person well known for leading people into "opportunities" may not wish to reveal his or her real name to prospects, at least for the initial contact
- to present a more enticing image
ex: male marketers may instead present a female profile as his "public image". In fact, most fake profiles are female, in my limited experience
- to "astro-turf", create an artificial image of popularity in hopes of starting a viral trend
- to gather up connections later to be sold for profit
ex: supposedly a person on LinkedIn offered his connections for $10
- to appear more legitimate or more qualified than reality
ex: by claiming alumni at a famous university, or at a Fortune 500 firm, s/he may be able to connect with someone that would not have otherwise accepted the connection
- to gather e-mail addresses for spam lists
- to denounce / insult / troll / attack a rival company, often pretending to be a whistleblower (i.e. an employee)
- to give the image of a bigger company than it is, by having several "fake staff" at a one-person company join the company
- to impersonate employee of a rival company and issue public insults in their name
ex: ARM of UK was impersonated by someone on LinkedIn who insulted others
- and more
What is LION?
LinkedIn Open Networker, or LION, is a quasi-official designation of people on LinkedIn who will accept a connection from anybody, even people s/he do not know at all, as opposed to only connect with people with real prior connections through work, interest, or education. See explanation from Windmill Marketing.
Many fake profiles claimed to be LION, or sometimes, TopLinked, MyLink, and such.
Why LinkedIn in particular?
LinkedIn claims to be a social network for "professionals". LinkedIn was definitely more professional and less spam-y than other social networks, with less of the "chatter". it does this by limiting connections to people you know / connect through professional or educational links (alumni, work, interests, etc.)
However, it does not verify any of the qualifications, associations, education, or employment history. This had lead to abuse by unscrupulous people. In one example, a family-ran 2-person game company suddenly found itself with "journalist" and extra "employees" on LinkedIn trying to connect with other gaming professionals. it is purely up to the individual members to check up on whoever is attempting a connection, and many were not very careful in accepting connections.
What can you do about fake profiles?
LinkedIn just launched the "flag" function for profiles. If you think the profile is very obviously fake, please use the flag button.
However, keep in mind that abuse of flag button may cause your own profile to be flagged.
LinkedIn seem to be serious about finding abusers of their system and you should help them... but carefully looking through profiles of those who wants to "connect" with you, and see if there are fakes in the mix.
See their own FAQ on this item: https://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1385 (you may need to login)
What are signs of a fake profile?
The signs of fake profiles are varied, most of which would be basically stuff that does NOT make sense... if you look a little closer.
The signs generally fall into the following categories
- Name Problems
- Picture Problems
- Education Problems
- Employment Problems
- Other Problems / Combination Problems
Please note that the signs individually do not indicate a fake profile, but multiple signs within a single profile vastly increase the chances of the profile being fake.
Name problems are within the name of the profile itself.
- Generic name (esp. lifted from novels, comics, codenames, etc)
ex: Robin Sage, fictional cyberthreat analyst
ex: Karen Simms, fictional "professional"
ex: Jessica Jones (profile no longer available), fictional marketing manager (name origin)
Basically, if the name looks like one of those "from" names you find in spam e-mail, it's suspicious.
- Name with alliteration, like "Molly Major" (see Fake Profile Analysis 1 below)
- Badly capitalized names (all lowercase, or ALL CAPS, or just bad caps)
ex: julia cute
ex: abigail AnA
(yes, these are from profiles on LinkedIn)
People who can't spell their own names or capitalize their own names right are probably bots. At the minimum they are unprofessional.
- Clearly implausible names
ex: julia cute (from Pakistan, really...)
- Strange characters or words in the name itself
ex: Karen Simms's name on LinkedIn is actually
"Karen Simms LION I Accept Inv.,firstname.lastname@example.org"
They can't hide from TinEye
TinEye.com is a reverse image search engine. Feed an image to it and it will search among its database for a match. If it's a stock photo, or used somewhere else, this will probably find it, even if it has been shrunk, chopped, cut, or otherwise manipulated.
Visit TinEye.com, or install one of the plug-ins for Chrome and Firefox browsers, to start your search.
Photo problems are with the suspect profile photo itself. The fake profile photos can be from many different places. Initially people just copied photos of famous celebrities. Later they started to copy photos of CEOs, and even stock photos (such as Getty Images / iStockPhoto). Recently the picture thefts have went international, with pictures lifted from blogs in Asia, stars reports in Middle East, Flickr from all over, and so on.
Fake profile photos generally have one or more of the following characteristics:
- Photos that seem to be way too professional... or UN-professional
Photos that are too "posed" are clearly suspect. Use TinEye.com on it and you can often find where it was lifted from.
ex: that photo of "Jessica Trot" to the right... Is that a pose a professional would show people? TinEye revealed that this is actually an amateur model in Russia who's not afraid to show a bit more skin than that picture.
- Obvious Stock Photo
I've seen profile pics that still have the stockphoto website watermark
- Clearly implausible photo
ex: Julia Cute claims to be from Pakistan, but "her" picture is obviously Chinese
- Obvious Star Photo
Many fake profiles used movie stars, TV stars, sports stars, and more
- Obviously wrong gender
- No photo at all
If they don't want to show their face, you probably don't want to connect with them
Fake profiles often have problem with listing about their education. Very often, fake profiles do not list any. If they do list some, it is often to either a fake listing or a diploma mill (i.e. a for-profit university whose degree is barely recognized as competent).
Here are some of the signs of a fake education:
- Education at a Generic Name Universities or Colleges
ex: Art Center College of Design
- Education at prestigious Universities or Colleges that cannot be verified through alumni records, or through ANY sort of alternate references (yearbook, fraternity or sonority, etc.)
- No major or specialization listed
- No time listed for college attendance
ex: Berkeley College (no date listed)
see profile of "venisa david" to the right.
(That is actually picture of Turkish actress "Tuba Büyüküstün")
- Education timeline does not add up
- No education listed AT ALL
Fake Profiles on LinkedIn, often have fake references as anybody can claim to have worked for any company, even if that company has a presence on LinkedIn itself. Most fakers are not that bold though. They will simply make up a name for their alleged place of employment.
Here are the signs of fake employment history:
- Employment at Generic Name companies
ex: Omega Marketing
ex: Fine Arts Global
- Employment at prestigious companies that cannot be verified through human resources or any sort of third-party sources (company website, published articles, company newsletters and/or recognitions, and so on).
- Employment at nowhere in particular (i.e. no company specified). If they are currently unemployed, then they should just say so.
- Employment at obviously fake company (esp. when affiliated with a real one)
ex: See the suspect profile of Tiffany Miller on the right... There is no such company called "Fritz" company in DFW area, esp. none affiliated with UPS.
(Photo is from iStockPhoto)
- Employment timeline that does not add up
- No employment history (just a "current job")
Other suspect problems includes (but not limited to):
- professional experience does not correspond with education
ex: someone has 20 years of professional experience, but only graduated 12 years ago.
- very bad spelling... like... "markating" (that's really how it's spelled in one profile)
- professional experience shows regress instead of progress
ex: a campaign manager for public official in the US switched to human resources manager for a tiny company in Turkey. This usually means the experience was copied from a real profile but merged with some other profile or details.
- professional experience that shows a giant leap forward that is unexplained
ex: graduate of no-name diploma mill landed a managerial job at a Fortune 500 company with no in-between period.
- repeated posting of troll questions, inane marketing links, and so on
- matching profiles on other social networks say exactly the same thing, down to the last word.
- links to websites that actually promote something else, instead of him/herself.
ex: join my MLM!
- constantly make disparaging remarks about someone / something
- contributes nothing to you (i.e. the connection is useless)
- twitter handle that obviously belongs to someone else
ex: profile name is Jane Smith, but twitter handle is @johndoe
- recommended by another fake profile, or recommended a fake profile
- recommended someone who has very few connections, who then recommended back (i.e. mutual connection / recommendation circles)
- constantly revised experiences and/or education
if someone who can't stay consistent on a story, that's probably a fake. For example, a profile was found to have revised 15 years experience down to 3 months as intern (and a real worker at that place confirms there was no such employee)
- A group of attempted connections, each profile that is just slightly different (all from the same city, all worked at a particular company, all went to same schools, very similar e-mail addresses, etc.) esp. if they also recommended each other or connected with each other
Suspect Fake Profile Analysis 1
What's wrong with this profile?
- Spam-y name with alliteration (at least it's properly capitalized)
- The picture shows up as "one of 30 most beautiful women found on Flickr" (link no longer active)
- There is no Air National Guard deployed at "Midway Field, AZ", according to AZ Air National Guard website. In fact, there is no "Midway Field" at all.
- There is no company called Tuttle Enterprises in or near Phoenix, AZ
Clearly, this is a fake profile.
Suspect Fake Profile Analysis 2
What's wrong with this profile?
- Spam-y name (all lower case, alliteration, celebrity sound-alike)
- "Real Home Jobs" already sounds scam-y
- Clearly posed UN-professional photo (picture actually belongs to a PORN STAR named Sunny Leone)
- No references or education or experience whatsoever
Suspect Fake Profile Analysis 3
What's wrong with this profile?
- Generic name
- Picture is actually "Trisha Krishnan", whose Maxim cover is linked here.
- Search of "Miuge Chemical" found nothing, not even in China
- Her position was "chemicals"?
- Personal Website linked at "bytrade.com", a.k.a. Shen Ge Technology, is dead
I hope you've enjoyed my hints and tips on how to spot fake profiles on LinkedIn. I hope these will lead you to write better profiles on LinkedIn, (and hopefully not fake ones).
Bit More About LinkedIn
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The adage of Its not what you know, but who you know certainly plays a very large role in finding a well paying job in today's economy. Gone are the days of networking based solely on...
Dave on July 11, 2013:
Another fake LinkedIn profile Jenna Emonds: www.linkedin.com/pub/jenna-emond/76/a2b/492/
innovationgeek from California on November 23, 2011:
I feel like this is an increasing problem, and its good to know some tips on how to avoid being fooled!
kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on November 19, 2011:
@jack -- so did you use TinEye on the picture that's allegedly her?
jack on November 19, 2011:
thank you so much for the tips it saved me from a lot of trouble i met a women on social site and she said that the picture was hers but i was not sure so i was searching google and landed here it saved me and my time from scammers and spammers..God Bless You
linkvaark on April 19, 2011:
These are good tips! We should all take care to stay away from spammers, bots, and trolls as we go about our Social Networking. Remember: on the Internet, no one knows who's a dog!