Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of LinkedIn. To folks who do not know LinkedIn, I always describe it as a "serious social network."
When you are on LinkedIn, you post the equivalent of your resume, add other details, join groups that are usually professionally-oriented, and connect with other people (usually business associates). Sometimes you may connect with neighbors or friends, but the idea and intent is usually business-oriented.
The "public" page of my LinkedIn profile.
For me, one of the coolest things about LinkedIn is when I can encourage connections and facilitate networking among people I know whose paths might not otherwise cross.
In the last year, I've gotten more and more LinkedIn connection requests. And not just the usual outside vendors looking to sell to my company. Many of them are from total strangers with few details and odd combinations of workplace, title, school, and geography. Today's weird request (see below) has a decidedly male name and an unmistakably female-looking picture. He/she lives in a small town in Nebraska, and his/her last job was at my own company (but in Norway). Prior to that, he/she worked at Delta Airlines as a manager and the two positions overlapped for a few months, all after having graduated from Alabama's Auburn University with a "General Studies" degree. (Huh??)
Robert apparently lives in Nebraska and worked for SAS in Norway.
The troubling part is how many of my friends I see that are already connected to these individuals, which tells me that not everyone is scrutinizing these requests.
I am not prone to paranoia or conspiracy theories, but something is amiss here with these requests, and my sixth sense is telling me that it's not good. Considering recent reports of state-sponsored hacking and other online activities, there's a chance that my profile might look interesting because of any number of reasons -- where I work, who I am connected to, or maybe even where I went to school. Maybe they just want to get my password and then start harvesting my friends' information. For what purpose? I don't know, but I am not about to let it happen easily.
Let's say they hack into my password once we've connected. Do I use that same password on other social networks? It's not a stretch to think how my profile information on other social networks (my birthday, maybe my address) might be combined with my work history and used for not-so-nice purposes. It's not too far a stretch.
Many of these odd profiles show the person as currently "Consultant" at "Self-Employed," which is the only information available in the email invitation to connect along with the picture and name(see below). Who is going to callously ignore someone who's self-employed, ostensibly asking to connect because they know someone you know?
She just might be self-employed in rural Nebraska, having once worked for SAS in Norway and Delta Airlines for a few months, and graduated from Auburn University in Alabama, but is she really "Robert"?
The other issue here is that LinkedIn makes you log in before you can see the person's profile, but that "Accept" button looms much larger in the email. It's all too easy for someone in a hurry to just click the "accept" button.
Take a look at some of these other recent requests I've received and let me know what you think:
Do you know any lawyers who call themselves by that name? Yeah... me neither.
Tait? You look just like Sylvia Prestridge below!!
Sylvia, this is total déjà vu! Where have I seen you??
I may be wholly off-base here. And if Robert Perkis, Boozer Melgoza, Harold Jesusita, Tait Primeaux, and Sylvia Prestridge are all real people -- or if any one of these are real people -- then please set the record straight and I'll apologize publicly and remove the screen-shot of your LinkedIn profile from this post.
In the meantime, please be aware that something is amiss, and as always, tread carefully with LinkedIn and social media in general. LinkedIn is a little different because of the amount of detailed information you may have in your profile, and LinkedIn is "serious" -- nobody is really on there announcing their new favorite brand of jeans, posting pictures of their kids, or sharing cat videos.
Treading carefully means paying attention to who you connect to, how you engage with your online friends, and what information you make available. Before you click "accept," open a new tab and do a Google search on that name and see what comes up. Then decide if you want to connect.
This originally appeared on the SAS blog Customer Analytics.