Social Media

The Terminator is on LinkedIn: The Rise of Fake Social Media Profiles

Have you noticed a huge increase in the number of fake friend requests on your social media platforms? I have. I’ve refused five or six fake requests on Facebook in the last month or two, and have started seeing them crop up quite a bit on LinkedIn as well. What’s going on? The answer is simple: spammers are going more sophisticated in their never-ending quest to flood the world’s inboxes with pleading letters from fantastically rich Nigerian princes, all in an effort to separate you from your money.

Spammers Have Gotten More Creative

I’ve often wondered about the minds of spammers. Part of me really wants to sit down with them, ask them a leading question or two, and just let them ramble on like Charles Manson. I’m sure it would be fascinating. In the past, simply filling a person’s inbox with garbage seemed to be enough. Now, they want more: they want the ability to phish and steal identities on social media profiles, and they’ve gotten incrementally better at fooling people.

The Terminator Has a LinkedIn Account

There’s a specific incident that sparked my interest in spammers, and it happened on LinkedIn. A couple of years ago, I received a connection request from a woman named “Michelle” that I didn’t know. Since my network was quite small, I accepted it without much thought. A few weeks went by before I noticed something weird: she had added another Ryan Mason as a connection. Being the curious type, I checked out her connections and was shocked to discover that she had connected with fourteen people named “Ryan Mason”! My name isn’t that common, and I immediately thought of the scene from The Terminator when Arnold Schwarzenegger opens the phone book looking for the addresses of all the Sarah Connors in Los Angeles. Out of curiosity (and quite a bit of trepidation,) I messaged her and asked if she was looking for someone in particular. Her response blew my mind:

Hello Ryan,

Yes, I have sent important information for you, kindly view the offer in the email and respond.

Regards,

Mitchell

Good news: it wasn’t the Terminator. Bad news: a spammer managed to connect with me and get my email address! So that’s where those Nigerian prince scam emails were coming from. (And yes, “Michelle” signed it “Mitchell”.) I instantly reported her, and LinkedIn did a great job of removing her profile from the site quickly. The human resistance defeated Skynet that time, but like the seething heads of the mythical hydra, these profiles just keep on reappearing.

What Should You Avoid?

It’s pretty easy to avoid spammers as long as you avoid adding people you don’t know. This is especially easy on Facebook; I’m perpetually getting friend requests from people that I don’t know, and unless I research the hell out of them and determine they’re not a spammer, I never ever accept them. The fake profiles that try to add me typically share a few things in common: they have a profile picture of a spectacularly beautiful woman, the profiles are typically new, vague, and painfully lacking in content, and they have a ton of recently-added friends from every corner of the globe.

Keep Your Eyes Open On LinkedIn

Although pretty much everyone knows that Facebook is full of fake profiles, the existence of fake profiles on LinkedIn seems to catch people by surprise. To me, fake profiles on LinkedIn are much more dangerous for this reason. Not only can they get access to your email address, they can phish you through the messaging feature. All of the requests I’ve gotten from fake LinkedIn profiles share common attributes as well: they once again come from ridiculously attractive people who all have vague professional histories and a low number of connections. In my experience, they sometimes have their first name fully capitalized. I’ve seen this at least five times, and I have no idea why they choose to do it.

Keep an especially close eye out for people who claim to be VPs, Presidents, or CEOs. Like the misguided people who engage in “stolen valor” (or, pretending to be a decorated Navy SEAL or an Army Ranger when they aren’t), the thing that gives the fakers away isn’t the stealing of the “valor” itself, but how much of it they try to steal.

But if you’re building an empire and you actually want to add people you don’t know, you’re going to have to start vetting your connections a little better– and that doesn’t just mean looking to see if they’re connected to other people in your network. Often, spammers will send connection requests company-wide for this very reason. If you want more advice in this area, this Forbes article has some good tips on how to vet LinkedIn requests.

The key though, is to listen to your gut. Like the Terminator, spam profiles seem a little “off”, even if you can’t put your finger on it. Stay vigilant, and if someone sends you a fake request, tell them to “hasta la vista, baby!”

Featured image attribution: “Terminator 3” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by twm1340

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