10 March 2014

How scammers can use you to get to your LinkedIn contacts

People join LinkedIn not only to keep up with friends, ex-colleagues and business acquaintances on a professional level, perhaps to see and be seen, but also on the off-chance that a headhunter may view your LinkedIn profile and offer you the job you've always wanted. 

The company announced in February that it has surpassed the 50 million member mark in the Asia Pacific region, larger than the population of some countries in Asia. Getting access to this many people was never possible before.

But a social recruitment site is two-edged. Anyone can also make use of LinkedIn to start a conversation. I've received queries on whether there are job vacancies at my employer, for example. You can always choose to respond, or not.

But there are also those who seek a LinkedIn connection on questionable pretenses. One lady who has requested a connection states baldly in her profile that she's selling property and how to contact her, but 'cold connections' are simply that.

What's sneaky is when a complete stranger requests to connect on LinkedIn, and you decide to allow it based on his or her profile because of the way it's written. Her company implies she's in executive recruitment, for example, or he says he's in investments and "seeking opportunities to discuss various topics".

The next thing you know, this person has literally gone viral. All of your contacts seem to have added that person as well - very probably because they thought that he or she is trustworthy since you are listed as a shared connection. This person could just be over-enthusiastic about expanding a LinkedIn network, but he or she could also be harvesting personal information, or even hoping to get in touch with someone you know.

There is, unfortunately, no antivirus software available for this practice. Unlike Google+, LinkedIn doesn't offer different levels of privacy for different sets of connections. 

All you can do is try to connect to people you already know, weigh the benefits of connecting to a stranger, and check with a mutual connection about how he or she came to know this stranger. The number of mutual connections alone means nothing. And you can make sure that your network is for your eyes only. It stops them cold.