Most of us use social networking media to ‘consume’ and disseminate information. In this day and age, these networking sites are vying with each other to provide greater levels of innovation for social interaction, information exchange, dialogue and collaboration. The interconnectedness of the global village has never been more intense. However, little do we realise that much of the information that users provide and the medium that they choose to disseminate it, comes with its own pros and cons. Thankfully, there are a few social networking stalwart scientists who analyse and make social networking communities aware of the negative impact and deal with the  risks that social networking may pose.

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John thomas, Manager – Social Media, Digital Strategy & Planning in a leading digital marketing agency in Dubai, sat down with a member of the ArabianGazette.com team and discussed one of the most recent scourges of Social Networking – the emergence and creation of fake profiles.

Facebook recently reported that 83 million profiles on Facebook are fake. How different is a LinkedIn fake profile from those on other social networking sites?

Fake profiles on social media are not a new phenomenon. It has always existed whether on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any social networking site for that matter. Fake profiles on LinkedIn aren’t very different from fake profiles on other social networks, except that here, owing to the professional nature of the site, a faker may identity himself/herself as a CEO or top notch executive of a Fortune 500 company whereas on Facebook or Twitter the same person may have a different approach or identity. It depends largely on the intention with which a person created a fake profile.

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What are the signs of a fake LinkedIn profile? How does one differentiate a legitimate profile from a fake one?

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 namely – name problems, picture issues, education and employment disinformation.  Name problems are within the name of the profile itself. Generic names, lower caps first and last name, badly capitalised names, rhythmic names like Sam Smith, Joe Johnson etc. Photo problems are with the suspect profile picture. Photos that seem to be way too professional or un-professional, photos that are too “posed” are clearly suspect, obvious stock photos, clearly implausible photos, obvious star photos are some of the red flags. Education issues include not listing any education details and if listed – no major or specialisation mentioned. Educational timeliness does not add up and no specific timeline listed for college attendance.

The signs of fake employment history are – no employment history listed (just a “current job”), employment timeline that does not add up, employment at generic name companies, employment at “nowhere” in particular (i.e. no company specified).

I have dealt with this issue in detail on my blog and Facebook pages and I recommend that people read them and also pass the message around to their valuable contacts. We need to spread this message as far and wide as possible so people know how to deal with fakes on LinkedIn.

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Why do you think someone would want to create a fake profile on a professional site like LinkedIn?  

A person may create a fake identity on LinkedIn for various reasons and the most common reasons being – 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 impersonate an employee of a rival company and issue public insults in their name (hate campaigns), to appear more legitimate or more qualified than reality (for instance by claiming to be staff at a Fortune 500 firm, s/he may be able to connect with someone that would not have otherwise accepted the connection), to gather up connections to be sold for profit later, to create an artificial image of popularity and finally some companies are known to create fake profiles to give an impression of being a bigger company than they are actually are, in reality.

fake linkedin profile sample

How did you come across these false profiles on LinkedIn? Why did you decide to take up the issue?

A couple of weeks ago, I got a LinkedIn invite from someone claiming to be CFO of a reputed UAE bank. On closer observation of the profile, which I usually do when someone I haven’t worked with connects with me, I found that something was amiss. Firstly, the man claiming to be CFO of a popular bank had merely around 30 connections. Secondly there was absolutely no other information on the person’s profile except a generic sounding name, designation and the name of the bank he claimed to be working for. There was no career history, educational information or links to websites. To verify the legitimacy of the profile, I did a “reverse image search” which proved my doubts right and led me to the legit profile of a real estate broker in Sydney. From then on I have been receiving countless invites from fake HR profiles.

As a responsible LinkedIn networker and social media practitioner, I felt it was my duty to take up the issue and warn people about the dangers of connecting with imposters on LinkedIn.

SEE ALSO: Why LinkedIn is the Perfect Place to Jumpstart your Job Hunt

What are some of the ramifications of fake LinkedIn profiles? What dangers does it pose to companies and individuals?

People create fake identities normally for malicious and wrongful intentions. I am yet to encounter someone who created a fake profile for a good purpose. LinkedIn users needs to be really cautious while connecting with strangers because many fraudulent characters pose as legit professionals from respectable companies to gather personal information from users. For instance many of these fakers claim they are HR professionals in reputed companies and they post false job vacancies. They then collect CVs of professionals which contain all their personal details including phone numbers, addresses and other sensitive info which could be misused. They risk creating a bad name for the company when they do any wrongful or malicious deeds by using the company name. Also to the individual whose identity they have impersonated.

What can one do about false profiles?

LinkedIn has a “flag” function for profiles. If one is sure that a profile is fake s/he could use the “flag” option.  Flagged profiles are reviewed by the LinkedIn Customer service and deleted if there are any violations to their terms or if it is found to be a fake profile. However, one must keep in mind that abuse of flag function may cause one’s own profile to be flagged. LinkedIn is serious about finding abusers of their system and users must support them in reporting troublemakers. Finally people need to use their good judgment while connecting with strangers on the internet.

Have you tried contacting LinkedIn itself? If yes, what was their response?

I have contacted LinkedIn customer service on several occasions and I am yet to hear back from them. I sincerely hope that they will take necessary action against fake profiles soon, or else people may start losing their trust on LinkedIn and their effectiveness in dealing with such issues.

What are some of the measures that we can take to prevent our LinkedIn profiles from getting impersonated?

The best way to prevent ones online identity from being misused is to fully utilise the privacy options and features available in sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. On LinkedIn one could adjust the profile picture visibility settings to “My connections” to prevent misuse of their profile photo by others who are not connected. By adjusting this setting to “my connections” only those connected to you can view your photo.

Do you see yourself as  David against the Goliath in fighting for this cause? Are you seeing any progress in this malpractice? What other measures and actions have you taken to root out this problem?

I see myself as a responsible internet professional who wants to make use of the power of my network to reach out and warn as many people as I can. After an aggressive social media crusade which involved sending out tweets, posting fake images checklists on my Facebook pages and blog, I definitely feel there is a lot of awareness about the issue. Ever since I initiated the campaign, I have written to more than 3,000 people about this disturbing trend and what they need to do to be safe on LinkedIn. I also got in touch with the cyber crimes division of Dubai Police through twitter, when I noticed some fake profiles with images of UAE sheikhs and other royalty. They have assured me that they are investigating. Information about my research was also published in leading regional portals like Al Jazeera and Arabian Business which ensured that the information reached many people. I’d like to believe LinkedIn users are more careful now after my campaign.

Is there any particular trend that you see in fake profiles? Is this trend more prevalent in the Middle East? Or is this a Global phenomenon?

Though fake profiles always existed on social networking sites, of late their numbers are increasing in gargantuan proportions. This is not limited the Middle East. My contacts in different parts of the world have mentioned about spam invites from fake profiles too, so saying it is a global phenomena which needs to be ‘nipped in the bud’.

Resources to help you deal with someone impersonating your account

Twitter:  How to Report an account for impersonation on Twitter

Facebook: How to Report an Imposter Account on Facebook

John Thomas’ LinkedIn page

John Thomas Official Page

Blog: http://mindblowingresources.blogspot.com

Jacon Share of Personal Branding Blog has put together a very useful Reference Manual on Impersonation Policies for Top Social Networks , including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google and a host of other social media networks.

Lifehacker, one of the top Internet website that provides tips and tricks on technology has got some interesting tips to offer if your profile is impersonated, including doing nothing !

(Were you a victim of impersonation? if yes, how did you deal with the situation? let us know in the comments below)

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