For weeks (actually, no, make that months), I’ve sat back and watched a pretty interesting phenomenon unfold. It’s nothing new, of course, but it’s a hell of a lot more prevalent – it seems like the conflagration of fake LinkedIn accounts has turned from a rivulet into a river.
And the floodgates are beginning to burst – just like my patience with this deluge of phony profiles. I mean, at first, I was going to give them a pass – I figured, well, that’s going to happen to any platform, particularly on social media.
But after a few months, it’s become pretty obvious that this phenomenon is particularly prominent on the LinkedIn platform, and disproportionately so.
Yes, I understand it’s probably unfair to lump LinkedIn with the rest of the social media sites out there, since, let’s face it, it’s a job board with some pretty good brand marketing, but for the sake of this post, let’s stretch this definition and take the liberty of agreeing that LinkedIn qualifies as a social network.
And I suspect that I’d have filed this post in my growing list of “shit I want to write about but don’t really have the motivation,” where it’s languished for a long time now – that is, until I just got personally hoodwinked by one of these “professional network” poseurs. I’ve got to say, something snapped – this latest incident was the last straw in what’s become a pretty big problem for recruiters and candidates alike.
So I decided it was time to shine the spotlight on this issue to see if we just can’t make enough noise to force some sort of change in how LinkedIn, which is reliant on recruiters’ business for its very existence, actually manages the product most of us are paying out the nose for the privilege of using. The company obviously has a horrendous track record of ignoring their core customer, but here’s hoping that we can influence some sort of change to the product where most employers spend most of our budget (and time, for that matter).
The Con Is On
This story should sound familiar to a lot of recruiters out there – apparently getting scammed by fake LinkedIn profiles is turning into a pretty commonplace professional hazard. But if you’re lucky enough to never have been personally bamboozled by this “professional network,” then consider this a cautionary tale.
It all started last week, when I received an e-mail from Mark Lee, an (alleged) software engineer at GroupOn. It informed me that he wanted to connect with me on LinkedIn, which was pretty awesome, considering that an engineering candidate at a brand name tech player contacting a recruiter (instead of the other way around) is, let’s just say, not something that really happens. Like, ever.
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Most of these dudes avoid us like the plague – which is why tech recruiters have to get creative when sourcing and engaging guys like “Mark Lee.” But in this case, I thought, “Wow. That was easy.”
This invitation coming out of the blue doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s not entirely implausible or even all that unusual (for positions not involving engineering, coding or any tech related skill set). After all, I get random invites all the time from “people I may know” (I never do), and I spent several years working in the recruiting organization at GroupOn’s biggest competitor. So, I thought maybe Mike was just testing the waters – and I was happy to help him navigate, considering GroupOn’s reputation for recruiting really, really good engineers into their organization.
Naturally, I was curious, so I did a little digging. A quick look at his public profile was all it took to figure out that there were strange things afoot and that this profile was a little, um, odd. First, all his jobs started and ended in January, which is unusually consistent timing, even for a serial job hopper. Second, none of those jobs had any details at all about what he did at these companies, or the technology he actually used in his tech roles. But he was, in fact, part of a group called “Hiring With LinkedIn,” which seemed like an odd choice for someone in engineering.
Even stranger, though, was the fact that none of my extensions – Connectifier, Prophet, TalentBin or Entelo – could turn up anything else on this guy. Not an e-mail address, not an associated Twitter account, nothing – except, of course, for his LinkedIn profile. So, naturally, I did what any recruiter would do – or did, anyway, back in the days before our entire identities moved online and our professional footprints became publicaly available. I asked around my network to find out what some of my most trusted colleagues – Steve Levy, Ian Jones and Matt Duren what they thought.
Surprise! Turns out that they were already personally familiar with this candidate, since they’d all received the exact same message within the same 24 hour period. Long story short (or shorter, I suppose), every one of us reported this obviously fake profile directly to LinkedIn. For whatever the hell that’s worth. Update: Apparently, it’s worth something, since it’s been removed from the platform. Score at least a small win for the good guys this time around.
Even though the profile was removed (after multiple users independently flagged it as spam), it begs the issue of how many of these fake profiles are actually out there doing the exact same shit as this one (and likely, the mastermind behind “Mike Lee” has already opened another fake account to replace the original). So, how big an issue is this, really?
Turns out, it’s ginormous. Talk to any recruiter, and you’ll understand how damned prevalent phony profiles actually are. Yeah, I know, recruiters, the same profession widely derided and chided for sending too much spam, might not seem like they have any rooms for complaining about all these misleading messages blowing up our respective inboxes.
But here’s the thing: at least recruiters, like us or not, have the cajones to send stuff out using our REAL name that’s associated with our REAL profile and professional information. That’s why it’s simply unfair to lump us into the same bucket as these ass-clowns, who spend their Friday nights creating fake profiles for the purposes of drumming up new leads or business opportunities.
Talk about pathetic – I mean, c’mon, did Hoover’s go out of business? Do you not know how to use a search engine? There’s a better, easier way that’s out there, but that doesn’t seem to stop these douche canoes from being on the cutting edge of career con artistry.
The LinkedIn Fake Profile Hall of Shame
Don’t believe me? Here are a few other examples of fake LinkedIn profiles from just the last day alone – and I suspect that for many of you, you’ve probably come across the exact same ones at some point in the same 24 hour period. If so, this is what Catfish would look like if it was about careers.
GreyCampus: Meet John Reed. He’s a clean cut guy, professional and looks every bit the part of the legitimate recruiter his profile purports him to be. At least at a quick glance at his profile, there’s no reason to suspect he’s anything but some bald dude from Dallas who’s a talent practitioner in the e-learning industry. In fact, John is such a generic recruiter, he’s almost forgettable since he seems so familiar.
OK, cool. So I check out his company, GreyCampus, which sounds legit, I’ve just never heard of it. But when I look at who else works there, turns out that their employees all moonlight as stock photo models (good work if you can get it), or none of them actually exist, and these profiles were populated with Shutterstock images.
One of which looked awfully familiar, but still…I mean, obviously the first scenario is more likely, because who has the time to create a completely fictitious company with a completely fictitious workforce for the purposes of phishing for biz dev on LinkedIn?
That’s just ridiculous, right?
Yeah, it is. But apparently, not impossible. Just really, really stupid.
We all know that hiring veterans is good business, and that transitioning soldiers are a great source of new civilian talent – and that was before the added incentive of having them count as diversity candidates just got slapped on, which is really a double bonus from a talent perspective.
That’s why I’d like to take a minute to salute Mr. James Owen for sacrificing his Beverly Hills digs and NYU degree to help protect our freedom. But the fact that his job title is listed as “Millitray” shows us that we’re still not free from dumb asses – or people pathetically co-opting veteran recruiting for personal gain. Hat tip to Steve Levy for doing a nice job trolling this one.
James isn’t the only fake profile trying to pass himself off as a veteran on LinkedIn. And maybe his biggest mistake wasn’t, in fact, using spell check, but rather, shooting too low – he literally could have reached for the stars.
Because in addition to making the same spelling error, I’d be remiss to not take a minute to salue General Frank Gork Gorenc, who, despite his unfortunate name, rose through the ranks to General, decided that maybe being one of the top officers in the military wasn’t for him, and landed a sweet job in the “Millitray” division at MillerCoors.
C’mon, Man!: LinkedIn Edition
Since football season is over, I thought I’d pick up where ESPN left off and give some very well deserved shout-outs to these profiles that are so ridiculously and obviously fake that all you can really do is shake your head and wonder who actually makes these profiles in the first place. Because, c’mon, man. Ain’t nobody buying these.
John Black: This marketing executive at “Outsource” (obviously a real company) bears a striking resemblance to Bollywood heart throb Vidyut Jamwal, although in all fairness, the ‘outsource’ part of this profile is probably somewhat accurate. A hearty ‘goodonya’ to this Sydney based spammer.
Abe Froman: Ever see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Yeah, so did everyone else in the world – it’s like one of the most seminal movies of my generation, but hey, if you’ve got enough time to create a fake LinkedIn profile but not enough to come up with a good pseudonym, then might as well pour one out and pay homage to John Hughes – and channel your inner Sausage King of Chicago! Which is apparently a real job title.
Speaking of Abe…let’s give a President’s Day salute to a man for whom there is no more fitting tribute to his lasting reputation for honesty and integrity than the 13 results I pulled on LinkedIn for “Abraham Lincoln.”
Only one claimed to be a profession other than President of the United States (I think someone misunderstood the term ‘Dead Presidents’ before trying this one out), but you’ve got to give props for the person who added “party animal” in the headline next to the already pretty impressive (and believable) POTUS title.
Why It’s Time for LinkedIn To Get Real.
For a company that claims to have 347 million members worldwide, that’s a lot of fake profiles easily found over a pretty tight time frame – one day, to be exact, and I wasn’t even actively looking (except, obviously, the Abraham Lincoln one, but I never thought that would actually return any results).
So how many of those “members” are fake profiles? Let’s go with 1%, which is a way more conservative figure than is likely the case, but I’ll give LinkedIn the benefit of the doubt and low ball this one.
You don’t need “big data” to do the math on this one – even if only 1% of all LinkedIn “members” are fakes, that’s still 3.5 million fake profiles we’re talking about. That’s like the entire population of Puerto Rico or everyone living in Sydney, for perspective.
If this sounds a little suspect, you’re absolutely right. But what’s an even bigger slice of hulking bullshit is that their Talent Solutions product represents fully 57% of LinkedIn’s total revenue. Read that again. The company makes over half of its cash (notice I said cash, as the company has never actually made any revenue) by charging recruiters like you and me for the privilege of viewing what are egregiously obvious FAKE profiles.
The saddest part? LinkedIn has absolutely ZERO fucks to give about this problem. Sure, if they get enough complaints about one profile from paying customers in the course of a day, they’ll intervene and take it down. But otherwise, it’s game on – and for a company whose stock price and shareholder value is directly tied to its membership numbers and growth rates, it’s a game that’s an even bigger fraud than any of the profiles listed above. Fake profiles are actually good business for them – but for recruiters, we’re just getting screwed.
I mean, come on, LinkedIn. You’ve got enough cash where you could literally pull a Scrooge McDuck and turn your headquarters into a giant pool full of gold and go swimming around in there (yeah, I just made a Duck Tales reference – and I stand by it). So why don’t you take a little of that money and maybe hire a couple people to go through and scrub out all of those fake profiles hanging out on your platform.
Hell, for the cost of most enterprise licenses or the price of one open bar at Talent Connect, you could hire a whole damn team of mouth breathers to go through there – it doesn’t take a genius to know that Abraham friggin’ Lincoln is not a legitimate profile. Sure, some would require a keen eye, but even if you accidentally deactivated a real fake profile, then ostentibly, there’d be a REAL PERSON who would want to know why their account was removed, in which case, they’d probably appreciate the explanation. After all, identity theft is a felony – and the fastest growing crime in the world, which means that most people would really rather be safe than sorry when it comes to their online profiles.
You’ve really got to question the motivations of a public company that’s so focused on revenue they can afford to completely blow off and ignore the irrevocable damage that’s being done to their brand every day. Most of us already know that they’re misappropriating our data or forcing users to accept the most ridiculous terms of service in the entire internet industry. But every time I spot a fake profile, any time any other recruiter or even member just looking at their professional network sees one of these (spoiler alert: it happens a lot), it kills any credibility you have with the end users your business ultimately relies on. Keep on going down this path, and you’ll lose more than trust. Trust me.
Lest we forget that you actually NEED us – it’s the end users, the ones you could care less about, that you’re gouging from between $50k-$500k a year just for a license to be able to access what amounts to an endless sea of fake results and search results that are, more or less, CRAP. Ask Madoff, the dudes at Enron or anyone else whose product is predicated on duplicity and slight of hand how that model ended up working out.
How To Catch A Fake LinkedIn Profile
So, how do you spot a fake without having to spend half your day validating the supposedly accurate information being provided by the priciest platform out there?
It’s actually not that hard to start taking some easy steps to get a better sense if that candidate you’re thinking of contacting is a real person or not – which, by the way, is actually a listed requirement in LinkedIn’s Terms of Service, but hey, no point in ever enforcing those unless someone else is making money off of your data or API, in which case, they will see your ass in court.
But you’re not that important. You’re just a recruiter.
So here are some real steps real recruiters can take to spot a fake:
- Capture the profile picture in TinEye or Google Image – if you get stock files back in the results, you’re on to something. I’ve found TinEye to work best.
- Look for mutual connections and see if they know this person. I trust my colleagues, and if I can help them clean out the crap, all the better.
- Profiles with very few connections and minimal info on the profile should be an immediate (and huge) red flag.
- Look for spelling errors and areas of the profile where capital and lowercase letters are misplaced. Never a good sign
Your Voice Matters. Let LinkedIn Hear It.
The good news is that as recruiters, we’re the most powerful (and profitable) demographic LinkedIn has, the one user base that powers the engine that drives their revenue that drives their shareholder value and stock price.
We need to utilize that collective muscle and let LinkedIn know that we will no longer accept their blatant disregard and abuse of their end users.
They’re obviously not going to every take action on their own, so we need to force them to change – or else show them the true costs for alienating their core customer base.
Because together, it’s recruiters who will ultimately determine LinkedIn’s success or failure. As we go, so goes their bottom line.
Steve Levy, one of the most vocal advocates on this issue, has already taken the liberty of creating a real Twitter account, @FauxLinkedIn, to call out, spotlight and shame some of the better dupes or cunning con artists out there. It’s been going on for a while and has become fairly popular, but what’s amazing is that while @LinkedIn is tagged in every one of those tweets, they have never once responded.
Hell, I guarantee even this post won’t merit so much as a peep out of Mountain View – even though I understand that they read this site pretty closely. Or so my editor tells me. That’s why, since they won’t break their silence, it’s all up to us. I don’t want to start some cause, but this isn’t altruism. It’s business. Chances are, you’re paying real money to search fake profiles – and that’s a part of your budget that could be better be spent with a vendor who gave two shits (and returned real people in their results, even if they are unqualified as candidates).
Blast every phony you see to the powers that be at LinkedIn – or at least the stooges who monitor their customer support, social media and brand marketing initiatives. If they don’t have a motivation to deal with this issue yet, I’m pretty sure we can impart the proper sense of urgency fairly easily.
Let’s face it. Technology is fleeting. If LinkedIn thinks that their market position is indestructible, they’re sadly mistaken – and are going to pay the ultimate price for their hubris. They might want to put in a call to the Ladders and see how misrepresenting your product to customers impacts business performance and the bottom line – because once you lose your credibility in this industry, as the “6 figure” job site found out in an 8 figure lesson, you’ve lost everything.
Most importantly, reach out to your Account Managers. The ones who are on the front lines are the easiest targets to shoot for. After all, they’ll get why policing their platform is so important once they realize that their commissions are going to take a hit if this buillshit continues.
So let’s keep the conversation going. I know I’m not the only one. What are you seeing out there? What’s the worst or most egregious fake profile you’ve run into? Let us know by leaving a comment below – it should be entertaining, at least.
About the Author: Pete Radloff has 15 years of recruiting experience in both agency and corporate environments, and has worked with such companies as Comscore, exaqueo, National Public Radio and Living Social.
With experience and expertise in using technology and social media to enhance the candidate experience and promote strong employer brands, Pete also serves as lead consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consulting firm.
An active member of the Washington area recruiting community, Pete is currently a VP and sits on the Board of Directors of RecruitDC.