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How to Spot a Fake LinkedIn Profile and Avoid Phony Candidates

Written by: Greg Weiss

How to Spot a Fake LinkedIn Profile and Avoid Phony Candidates

Forget about candidates ghosting you. Now, organizations need to worry about ghost candidates – talent who look real at first glance. That’s especially the case on LinkedIn where, even after the platform enhanced its automated filters, 3 million fake profiles were only stopped after registration and 111,000 only after members reported them.

Whether they’re bots trying to collect emails, hackers sharing malware links, or underqualified candidates pulling a bait and switch, these fake LinkedIn profiles can waste your time or even do damage to your business.

Since professional social networks are now the default ways many organizations source or double-check on candidate claims, there’s a growing need for hiring managers and recruiters to up their LinkedIn literacy. Giving profiles a cursory glance isn’t enough. In our experience, here is how to spot a fake LinkedIn profile to avoid wasting your time on a mirage.

Research Candidates on the Web

Good recruiters don’t finish their candidate verification with LinkedIn. They’ll use numerous different sources online to determine whether a candidate is legitimate before they waste too much time going down the recruitment path.

One common practice is an excellent old-fashioned web search. You’ll likely come up with some results by cross-referencing candidates’ names with their most recent (or prestigious) positions. Maybe they’re mentioned, along with the organization’s name, in an interview, blog, old directory, or personal social media account. Whatever it is, this additional information can be the green light you need to dispel your fears and move forward.

However, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence in this case. Relatively new hires, junior professionals, or temporary consultants may not have the same breadcrumb trail on the web. That’s why this should always be one of the first steps rather than the basis for your snap judgment.

Use Their Profiles to Rat Them Out

Though people creating these fake LinkedIn profiles imagine they’re clever, they often lack the thoroughness to avoid sharp-eyed scrutiny. Everything from their network and advertised technical skills, to their duplicate accounts across the platform, can help you see the con artist hiding behind the screen.

A quick LinkedIn search can help weed out the obvious fakers. Some fake candidates create multiple accounts to appeal to different types of technical positions, casting several smaller nets rather than one large one. Yes, it’s more effort, but they often do so with the assistance of credential-faking services, so there’s likely a template they’re using (more on that shortly).

Do they know who they should know? If a candidate claims to have worked at a specific company or organization, their network should reflect those connections. Are they not connected to the person who should be their boss? Are they strangers to coworkers with similar skills? These should be red flags. Also, if a candidate is not connected to non-technical but equally important professionals (i.e. ed-tech professionals not knowing their current or former district superintendents), you should pump the brakes before moving forward.

What about their technical skills? There are plenty of tells when it comes to reviewing the IT skillsets that candidates claim to have – if you’re willing to do some snooping or have familiarity with their “employer’s” inner workings. For example, if you know that Company X is an agile shop that uses Python rather than Ruby, then alarms should be going off if you don’t see those details on LinkedIn. The same goes for industry-specific details. Any long-running tech professionals in financial services should know PCI-DSS, and those in healthcare should know at least one EHR system. They’re easy to catch.

Watch for Trending Templates

Anyone creating a fake candidate isn’t above cutting corners. Often, they’ll copy details from an actual candidate or use a template to save time in their fake LinkedIn profile creation.

In fact, Bruce Johnston, a LinkedIn specialist, caught one scamming trend only after he noticed a few “Profiles of the Undead” among his subscribers. Every example had similar titles (CEO & Founder), just two jobs in their work history, three spoken languages, and a hyperlinked title advertising “we’re hiring.” He notified LinkedIn Trust & Safety, but in a few weeks, he spotted a modified version of the same scam.

The lesson? Scammers aren’t stymied by hitting a brick wall (they just shake it off and keep searching for new windows of opportunity). As a result, organizations need to watch for these trends without falling down the rabbit hole of confirmation bias. It’s easier said than done. You need to regularly wade into the currents of LinkedIn, looking for the changing tides, or choose a a appropriate recruiter team to screen fake candidates for you.

Greg Weiss

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Greg authored 3 practical Career Books, and 1 Book helping Visionary leaders scale their businesses. He is one of Australia’s most experienced HR consultants and leading career coaches. He is the founder and owner of Soulidify and Career365. As an entrepreneur/business owner, Greg has experienced first-hand the joys and frustrations of starting and growing one’s own business.

You can find him on LinkedIn or Linktree.