LinkedIn: How to Spot Predators Posing as Professionals

Click to See Who Has Viewed Your Profile

Most of you, when you are invited by LinkedIn to click to see “who´s viewed your profile,” are not fearful, but flattered.  After all, this is why you have a profile, so people will look.  And most of your profile viewers are people you would not mind knowing. 

A small but dangerous group of undesirables use sites like LinkedIn as well, trolling for vulnerable victims to exploit financially or sexually.  They screen other users in as much detail as you do—albeit with drastically different motives.

Safe Information Sharing

Most people use online networking platforms such as LinkedIn to pursue professional connections and business opportunities.  And because LinkedIn is not a dating site, people feel free to share personal information they would never share on a purely social network platform—where you might expect creepy virtual voyeurs. 

Yet unsavory characters are on LinkedIn as well, because respectable business platforms provide the perfect cover for covert criminal operators. You might accept their connection request and strike up a conversation because given the legitimacy of the online platform, you mistakenly believe they are just like you.

And in the vast majority of cases, they are.  Sites like LinkedIn are great ways to connect with like-minded professionals.  Yet for a small percentage of users, the goal is not employment, but exploitation.  These manipulators are betting that you will not take the time to check them out.  But you can, and you should.  Here´s how. 

Spotting the Phony

Advertisers and marketers are well aware of the emotional appeal of majestic/ important sounding words and titles.  Manipulators are as well.  Beware of users who represent themselves as affiliated with non-existent companies or corporations with impressive sounding names.  A simple Google search can reveal the transparency of this ploy, and is well worth the time if these users are within your industry of interest and you are interested in connecting. 

Also take the time to check out users who contact you claiming to be employed within your target industry, yet are “self employed.”  In analyzing whether these folks are legitimate, remember that on a site like LinkedIn, less is not more.  A user who provides sparse information and perhaps has not even completed all profile areas is highly suspicious, because such under-exposure defeats the entire purpose of the platform—to showcase yourself and network with other professionals.  

The Smokescreen of Similarity: Invitations from the In-Group

You might be tempted to let your guard down when approached by a user who belongs to one or more of the same LinkedIn groups that you do, because we tend to trust “in-group” members more than those who are dissimilar.  Yet predators join groups seeking not professional visibility, but victims. They acquire an aura of authenticity by appearing to share similar interests.   But appearances can be deceiving.

Shared acquaintances can be deceiving as well.  Ill-intentioned users attempt to establish a sense of familiarity and common ground through name-dropping mutual connections.  Don´t be fooled—this could just mean that one of your contacts foolishly accepted a connection request from a stranger in order to grow their network.  We all have scores of online friends and connections that we barely know. 

 Beware “Professional” Cold Callers

You are likely not put off in the slightest by receiving LinkedIn connection requests from people you do not know.  That is the point of the site—to network with new people.  But be wary of LinkedIn users who bypass the netiquette of sending a connection request, and boldly pick up the phone instead. 

Brazen strangers-in-business call and ask you out for lunch or coffee, despite never having met or corresponded with you in any fashion, based on information they have learned about you online.  This audacity might reflect an unrealistic expectation of reciprocity.

Hoffman et al. (2014) discuss the concept of entitled reciprocity in cases of celebrity stalking—where a stalker believes the object of his or her affection owes them the same amount of time and attention the stalker has expended following the celebrity.[i]

Yet the phenomenon of entitled reciprocity could arguably apply to anyone targeted by an online stalker-in-the-making who feels entitled to have his or her attention reciprocated, given the amount of effort he or she has put into learning about you and your background. 

Network Responsibly

Online business sites like LinkedIn are dynamite ways to network with like-minded professionals.  A commitment to careful consideration before you connect will allow you to browse sensibly, and successfully. 

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