Do you really know your online 'friends?'

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, offer a great way to showcase your skills, share information, and make connections with others.  Many LinkedIn accounts grew fast with the bad economy.  This makes sense – networking is more important than ever.  But, how well do you really know the person you are sharing information with or tying your good name to?

WBTV's Cyber Expert Theresa Payton warns that there are strangers and spies among us and they use LinkedIn.  She wants to you to know you might be connected to an international spy or crime ring through your contacts and not even know it!

"I am a huge fan of LinkedIn.  I have connected friends to recruiters and I believe it is part of a process that helps people find their next job.  But the larger your list of contacts grow, the harder it is to know in depth who they are, much less who they are connected to," Payton said.

She recommends people use news events to remind them to check their LinkedIn profile.  If someone has been convicted of a high profile scam do a quick search of your LinkedIn profile.

Your network becomes part of your online reputation.  It is important that you actively manage your online connections.

How to Protect Your Network – Theresa has 4 tips that take less than 5 minutes:

  1. ASK OTHERS: If you receive an invite from someone you do not know, do a search on LinkedIn to see what groups they belong to and ask people you know that are connected to them before accepting.
  2. SEARCH:  Go to your favorite search engine and type in names of LinkedIn groups, companies, or individual invites you have received and read some of the search results.
  3. DROP:  If you join a LinkedIn discussion group and you become uncomfortable with the participants or the topics, drop the group or contact the owner of the group with your concerns.
  4. BE WARY:  If you get an invitation from a famous person, be careful.  People were duped when a fake Beyonce post lured them into clicking on links that loaded viruses onto their computer.


  1. Start with the people you work with
  2. Look up former colleagues
  3. Connect with former classmates
  4. If you do volunteer work, connect with fellow volunteers
  5. If you belong to trade associations or clubs, connect with fellow members
  6. Consider joining or creating LinkedIn groups that have similar professional interests or in a field of work that you want to move into
  7. Look at the contacts listed in the profiles of people that you respect and trust and ask for an introduction


If you want to test out your LinkedIn Profile, you can look for the following Russian Spies:

Donald Heathfield, CEO Future Map

Tracey Foley, Field Agent at Redfin Corp.

Anna Chapman, Founder of Domdot

Mikhail Semenko, China and Latin America Manager at Travel All Russia LLC

Cynthia Murphy, VP at Morea Financial Services


There are many sites that track the benefits of using LinkedIn and the current safety challenges.  We have highlighted a few of them here:

For a recap of how the spies used social media look at Mashable and LooseWireBlog: