On Wednesday, September 9, 2020, Wayne Farms LLC, an entity engaged in processing, packing, and otherwise selling a variety of food products in the United States and internationally, brought suit in the N.D. Illinois against LinkedIn and an unknown “John Doe” or the “fake Pat Gomez” to stop the “John Doe” from posing as an employee, Pat Gomez, of Wayne Farms and soliciting fraudulent product orders. A screenshot of the fake profile is shown above.
The profile also includes the following (wrong) email address: email@example.com. The complaint includes screenshots of Wayne Farms filling out the notification process that LinkedIn has to report an imposter, and alleges that while the profile was temporarily removed, the fake account kept popping up. And what’s more, the fake account was contacting customers of Wayne Farms and soliciting orders. The Complaint filed this week alleges counts of federal trademark infringement; federal trademark counterfeiting; false designation of origin; dilution; copyright infringement; contributory infringement for the John Doe fraud; false light privacy and right of publicity; and vicarious liability for the John Doe fraud, and it seeks a number of remedies, including an injunction and damages.
Unfortunately, this is not a one-off event. LinkedIn has long battled issues with fake user accounts.
In fact, LinkedIn itself has filed several complaints against John Doe fake member accounts over the years, alleging that the various Doe Defendants register fake member accounts in connection with their allegedly illegal data scraping activities. The fake accounts give data scrapers access to legitimate LinkedIn user member accounts, the bots behind the fake accounts then scrape the data from the legitimate user accounts and use the information to compete with LinkedIn.
Last November, LinkedIn published – for the first time in its biannual transparency report – its moderation efforts with respect to fake accounts. Per the report, from January to June 2019 LinkedIn took action against 21.6 million fake accounts with 95% (or 19.5 million) of such accounts proactively blocked during the sign-up process. An additional 2 million fake accounts were purportedly restricted by LinkedIn prior to member reports, and another 67,000 were restricted following member reports.
These are just the numbers that LinkedIn is aware of. Surely there are a large number of fake accounts and scammers that went undetected or that LinkedIn removed, but then came back—such as the “fake Pat Gomez” of Wayne Farms.
Based on our own experience, and the experience of our clients, it appears that the number of fake LinkedIn profiles that are going undetected by LinkedIn at the sign-up process is increasing. Users need to be on the lookout—aware of the fact that someone may be impersonating them, and also on the lookout to ensure that any connections made on LinkedIn are genuine people and contacts. A first step if you become aware of a fake LinkedIn account is to report it using LinkedIn’s process. See https://www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin/answer/61664/reporting-fake-profiles?lang=en. It’s best to take screen shots of this process, as you fill out the forms, to document your efforts. After reporting it, continue to keep an eye on the fake profile in question, even if it disappears initially—because it may come back. If the fake profile appears to be a repeat bad actor, you may need legal assistance.