Be Careful With LinkedIn Connection Requests

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.
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.
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'?
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.
Do you know any lawyers who call themselves by that name? Yeah... me neither.

Tait? You look just like Sylvia Prestridge below!!
Tait? You look just like Sylvia Prestridge below!!

Sylvia, this is total deja vu! Where have I seen you??
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.

John Balla, Customer Intelligence Marketer

John Balla is the team lead for customer intelligence field marketing at SAS. He has a background in marketing, which spans his own startups to Fortune 100 global corporations. He has lived and worked on three continents and says he has a fluent command of Portuguese, Spanish, Hungarian, and (sometimes) English. John loves the beach, snow skiing, cooking, and gardening. He tries to handle stress with humor and puts the 'X' in extrovert.

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Re: It's a Wild World
  • 5/25/2013 10:03:43 PM

@Broadway, That's not the only thing I look at. I use some other factors as well to determine the value/risk&hassle trade-off. For example, they may have a number of postings, they may have a blog, they may have other things that provide some idea of who they are. There are many people that I have connected with whom I had not known before, and the connections have sometimes been quite valuable.

Re: It's a Wild World
  • 5/25/2013 9:14:26 PM

@sabala, so if you get a link request from someone you've never done business with, you will accept it if their google search turns up ok?

It's a Wild World
  • 5/25/2013 7:52:08 PM

I see a whole spectrum of possibilities that can arise from connecting with people on LinkedIn. It may just come down to each person's setting of risk/reward on his or her personal dial. Objectives differ, and some LinkedIn users may be more promiscuous than others. Personally, I use the kind of basic analytics (Google check) that John suggests. If there are common connections, I ask them.

Re: Don't talk to strangers
  • 5/23/2013 10:00:29 PM

@Beatrice, I agree with you. I must immediately recognize a name on LI before I accept an invitation to connect with them. If I am unfamiliar with someone but recognize their organization and/or people I know already connected with them, I may click through to their profile. But even then, wariness is key.

Re: Don't talk to strangers
  • 5/23/2013 5:18:13 PM

I totally agree with you. I view LI as a tool to connect with people whom I know proffessionaly and would like to keep proffessionl relations in the future. If I don't know them, why would I want to keep in touch with them? and If they ever ask me for a connection, why would I want to put my reputation behind them and recommend them for anything? This is why I only accept invitations to connect from people I know or are being introduced to me by someone I know.

unlike the writer of this article, I do accept invitation from family memebrs. You never know who they know...

Re: Flattery
  • 5/23/2013 10:24:54 AM


"Now I try to cut off such connections as soon as they do it"

The solution is simple: If you no longer feel "really connected" with somebody in your LI account just remove them from your profile.

Thanks for the advice!

Re: Don't talk to strangers
  • 5/23/2013 10:05:00 AM


" I think linking to everyone really negates the value of a connection."

I (partly) agree! But LinkedIn connection is not only about who you know; it is also about connecting with people sharing the same professional or research interests - and you don't necessary need to know everybody in a given linkedIn research group to share information with them. 

Don't talk to strangers
  • 5/22/2013 10:48:45 PM

I really don't accept invitation from people I don't know on some level, personally or professionally. I think linking to everyone really negates the value of a connection. I feel very much the same as you do about the stranger connections.Why do they want to know that much about my background and activities?

Re: Flattery
  • 5/22/2013 10:09:25 PM

@Noreen At this point, I see no ego boost in LI requests. Many of mine come from people who are members in a group I've joined or who have some connections in common. I usually accept unless the person's background seems so far off that theere really was no basis for the connection. The only time I really regret accepting a connection is if the person uses it to spam me with constant emails to promote books, articles, products, links to virtual business cards, portfolios,  or even requests for jobs (which are beyond my power to grant). Now I try to cut off such connections as soon as they do it, though LI makes that process rather cumbersome. 

The requests I make usually are prompted by seeing that the person works for the same company or makes interesting contributions to the discussions on LI. Once in a while I also seek out people I know from FB, G+, or Twitter.

Re: Flattery
  • 5/22/2013 9:10:18 PM

Noreen, You may be right as I was drawing my conclusion from my sphereof contacts. Not at all representative of the site as a whole. The young technology professionals in the valley guard their online circles very tightly.

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