Dubious HR Profiles & Unrealistic Job Offers At Companies That Don't Exist. Welcome to 2012 Social Media Scams (LinkedIn)

As scary as this sounds, the number of fake profiles on professional sites like LinkedIn are on the rise. Every single day thousands of guileless and gullible job seekers are establishing connections with fake HR profiles and sharing their CV's and other personal details in the hope of finding that dream job. Well, what most of them don't know is that in the process they are falling victim to the clever machinations of unscrupulous elements who steal all their personal details for database and other misuse.

Its been a month since I started this Social Media campaign (read crusade) against fake profiles on LinkedIn (Click here for more info) and since then, I've written to thousands of people across LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter about the dangers of connecting with fake HR's and how to detect fake profiles on LinkedIn. Renowned Social Media Blogger & Author Cendrine Marrouat who realized the implications of this new scamming practice put out a lovely blog with illustrations from my Facebook Page to show people how to distinguish between a fake profile and a real one. 



Dubai based writer Samer Batter published a lovely write-up in two of Middle East's top news portals Al Jazeera and Arabian Business. Mahsoom Thottathil and Moign Kwaja published my interview on Arabian Gazette, My sincere thanks to all of them. 

I thought a blog is the need of the hour coupled with effective campaigns across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to make everyone aware of the scams and how to deal with fake personalities on sites like Linkedin. I highlight several key issues here in this blog, with real examples of people who tried connecting with me on LinkedIn in the recent past.



Introduction


LinkedIn is a professional network that claims they have over 150 million professional’s profiles online.  We are not sure how many of those 150 million profiles are probably ‘bots’, fake profiles created by unscrupulous people for nefarious purposes.   Let’s look at 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 this article is written primarily for LinkedIn, most of the tips can be applied to other social networks as well.

Why have a fake profile on LinkedIn?







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)
  • To gather e-mail addresses for spam lists
  • To present a more enticing image (ex: male marketers may instead present a female profile as his "public image". In fact, it is learnt that most fake profiles are female)
  • To 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 money)
  • 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 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





Why LinkedIn in particular?            

                                                          

LinkedIn claims to be a social network for "professionals". LinkedIn is definitely more professional and less spamy than other social networks. It does this by limiting connections to people you know / connect through professional or educational links (alumni, work, interests, etc.)  However there seems to be no mechanism on LinkedIn to verify any of the qualifications, associations, education, or employment history. This had lead to abuse by unscrupulous people.  It is purely up to the individual members to use their good judgment and  check up on whoever is attempting a connection.
For instance if the CFO of Bank of America wants to connect with me, then I surely need to relook the profile and see what is amiss. Using a simple google trick as illustrated on this page one can check if a profile is legit or no. Google simple reveals all the places where the image has appeared online and by this one can easily detect where the image has been grabbed from. 

What can you do about fake profiles?


LinkedIn has this "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 are serious about finding abusers of their system and we must support them in removing the troublemakers by carefully looking through profiles of those who wants to "connect" with you, and see if there are fakes in the mix


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


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.

1. Name Problems


Name problems are within the name of the profile itself.

Generic name like Steward Williams 

   

Lower case first and last name



























Rhythmic names like Sam Smith, Joe Johnson, Shane Lee etc sounding straight out of a Novel or Movie. Basically, if the name looks like one of those "from" names you find in spam e-mail, it's suspicious.

























Clearly Implausible names like Jovito Estera for a female (which is clearly obviously an eastern male name) 


























Strange Sounding company names like this one "bei MaE Service Agency"

























Badly capitalized names (all lower case, or ALL CAPS, or just bad caps). People who can't spell their own names or capitalize their own names right are probably bots. At the minimum they are unprofessional.


























    2. Photo Problems


    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 gone international, with pictures being lifted from blogs in Asia, stars reports in Middle East, Flickr from all over, and so on. By a simple google test, which I have illustrated on my Facebook page, (dragging an image and dropping it onto the google images search box) - one can find the source of the image and similar images on the internet. This may lead you to the legit profile in most cases. You can also use TinEye.com which helps you find  an image was lifted from.














    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. 
    • Obvious Stock Photo
    • Clearly implausible photo
    • Obvious Star Photo (Many fake profiles used movie stars, TV stars, sports stars, and more recently dead Sheikhs of UAE, and other royalty from princely families)
    • 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)



    3. Education Problems


    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 a fake listing

    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
    •  Education timeline does not add up
    • No education listed at all




























    4. Employment Problems


    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:


    • No employment history (just a "current job")
    • Employment timeline that does not add up
    • Employment at obviously fake company ex Vaneffen Consults. There is no such company and the lady’s image is from iStock Photos.
    • Employment at Generic Name companies
    • 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. 






       

















    Suspect Fake Profile Analysis





























    What's wrong with this profile?
    1. Unprofessional Photo ( The Google search led me to hot blogs in Pakistan)
    2. Education not listed
    3. Details of past employment not mentioned
    4. No description of job responsibilities
        5. No links to website, blog or twitter
        6. No recommendations (LinkedIn requires that you at least have 3 recommendations)
        7. No other information whatsoever, other than the person’s name and company name.

    Key Differences Between Real and Fake Profile




























    Fake Profile : Contradictions




























    The Technique of Spotting a Fake Profile on LinkedIn













    36 comments:

    1. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS!! I am getting about 50+ clearly fake profiles inviting me every day. Another reason people are doing this is to be able to post links and jobs in LinkedIn groups.

      A few points in addition to what you have said above.

      1) Anyone with a title that is just "Human Resources" is spam.

      2)Anyone whose title is "Career Staffer at X" or Senior Staffer at X".

      3) I use Chrome which offers a right click option of "Search Google with this image". Many of these fake profiles are using images pulled from the web.

      4) Anyone who lists "United States" as their location is spam - real people list their city/state.

      5) Look at patterns. I get so many of these I can easily see when 20 invitations in a row follow a pattern of for example "Manager at ABC Group" where ABC is any three-letter acronym.

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