How Fake LinkedIn Profiles Can Cause Real Business Headaches

You’ve probably seen questionable social media accounts trolling the comment section of your personal feed, or heard of scammers attempting to make a buck through fake Facebook or Instagram profiles. But recently, there’s been attention on a new frontier of fake social media accounts — business profiles on LinkedIn.

The CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Binance tweeted that of the 7,000-plus LinkedIn profiles claiming to be Binance employees, only about 50 actually work there. 

Another LinkedIn user — who happened to be a researcher who studied disinformation campaigns — reported they received a message from what seemed like a run-of-the-mill salesperson, only to find out the message came from a fake account with an AI-generated image.

After she and her colleague launched an investigation, they discovered over 1,000 fake LinkedIn profiles. 

Fake accounts are against LinkedIn policy, and the company has dramatically increased the number of fake accounts it removes before anyone even reports them. But it’s unclear whether better enforcement will slow down the use of fake accounts, which can help bad actors get around LinkedIn’s messaging limits and reach a large audience with fewer employees.

And to the untrained eye, it can be really difficult to tell whether profiles are fake. 

These scammers are a threat to users everywhere. But there are also serious business implications for fake, unverified, or even outdated online profiles — one of the core tradeoffs of the social media era.

How Many Fake LinkedIn Accounts Are There, Really? 

LinkedIn has over 850 million members representing over 58 million companies. But how many of those are real accounts?

In its community transparency report, LinkedIn reported that it prevented more than 23 million fake accounts from getting on the platform in 2021. However, it also restricted more than 9 million fake accounts that made it onto the platform, and removed 136 million instances of spam and scam content. While LinkedIn does have stringent enforcement, fraudulent accounts can still slip through the cracks and send messages to unsuspecting individuals. 

What’s It to Me? 

It may feel like this isn’t a huge issue. But fake accounts can cause major problems for companies that base their target market on LinkedIn users, run marketing campaigns based on personas or titles, or use LinkedIn as a database for outreach.

To investigate the potential disruption of fake LinkedIn accounts, ZoomInfo’s research team spent a week running tests to see how easy it would be to reach a contact on LinkedIn that doesn’t have a profile in ZoomInfo. 

We randomly chose 900 LinkedIn profiles that weren’t in our database, tried to look up their direct phone numbers or the phone number of their listed headquarters, and sent them an email. Ninety-four percent of the 900 profiles were unreachable by phone and 40% of our emails bounced. 

We then attempted to contact 900 LinkedIn profiles that also appeared in the ZoomInfo database. We reached out to each person with the phone number and email we had on file, and found that we could confirm 46% of them by phone, and only 4% of emails bounced. 

These tests support three things our team had suspected for quite some time. 

  1. LinkedIn profiles aren’t a great source of actionable contact information 
    Data is essentially evaluated by three factors: coverage, accuracy, and actionability. In other words, how much data do you have, how correct is it, and am I able to use this data? LinkedIn may have great data coverage, but for accuracy and actionability, its data isn’t always the best. 

    “We often get asked about the actionability of our data,” says Brandon Tucker, ZoomInfo VP of data strategy. “Prospects say, ‘OK great, you have 200 million profiles, but can I actually contact them?’ These tests prove that we have actionable contact information that doesn’t have to be cross-referenced with another database. We obviously can’t say the same for LinkedIn.” 

    The fact that LinkedIn doesn’t list contact data for its users also means that you’re limited to message outreach within the platform, guessing emails, or hoping to find people through employer directories or operators. 

    In contrast, all of ZoomInfo’s business data is vetted daily. Our team scans over 38 million online sources and adds an expansive contributory network, allowing us to build the most accurate and actionable business database. 

    You can find more information on our data here.
  2. Information found on LinkedIn accounts may be outdated or inaccurate
    ResumeLab recently surveyed U.S. workers to find out how often they updated their LinkedIn profiles and resumes. Forty-five percent of respondents said their LinkedIn profile contains outdated or inaccurate information. In addition, 66% of respondents said they were looking for a job — the group most likely to provide updated career information on all platforms — which leaves a large chunk of potentially prime passive candidates who might not be proactively updating their profiles.

    Without verification, recruiters, marketers, and sales teams also risk stumbling over job title inflation — when a person uses an incorrect or obscure title to describe their role.
  3. You’re missing out on a huge opportunity if LinkedIn is your only contact database
    Whether you’re a salesperson planning your outreach, a recruiter looking for promising candidates, or a marketing professional trying to plan your campaign strategy, relying on LinkedIn alone is probably going to make your job harder.

    Between the relatively benign problem of out-of-date information, through the more aggressive risk of straight-up fake accounts, it’s easy to see why our tests revealed low verification and response rates when using LinkedIn alone. The beauty of LinkedIn is its ability for anyone to create a professional profile — but, like with all social media platforms, that can leave gaps.

The sales process is hard enough. But if you start with a database that has accurate, verified contact information, you’re miles ahead of your competition. 

“We want our customers to continue to get tremendous value from our platform. I think we’re on the right track when we see that ZoomInfo users have eight to nine times more conversation opportunities than LinkedIn users alone,” Tucker says.

To learn more about how ZoomInfo can help you do your job more effectively, sign up for a free trial here.