The 1,000 Chinese SpaceX engineers that only existed on LinkedIn

“They all graduated from Tsinghua and attended the University of Southern California or similar famous universities,” Lee says. In addition, they all worked for a particular company in Shanghai. I obviously suspect that this is fake data that was generated.”

(SpaceX did not respond to a request from MIT Technology Review to confirm the number of Tsinghua alumni working for the company.)

This isn’t the first time Lee has noticed what he thinks are fake LinkedIn accounts. Starting in late 2021, he says, he started seeing profiles with fewer than a few dozen connections — a rarity for true LinkedIn users — and with profile pictures that were always good-looking men and women, likely stolen from other websites. . Most of them appear to be of Chinese descent and live in the United States or Canada.

At about the same time, the phenomenon caught the attention of Grace Yuen, a spokeswoman for the Global Anti-fraud Organization (GASO), a volunteer group that trackspig slaughtering tricks. Scammers involved in this practice, which began as early as 2017 in China, create fake profiles on social media or dating sites, connect with victims, build virtual and often romantic relationships, and eventually convince victims to transfer their assets. The scammers themselves came up with the name “pig slaughter”, comparing the intense and long-running process of gaining the victims’ trust to raising a pig for slaughter.

In recent years, while China has cracked down on fraudulent online activities, these operations have focused on targeting people of Chinese descent or Mandarin speaking outside of China. Founded in July 2021 by a victim, GASO now has approximately 70 volunteers on several continents.

While these fake accounts are relatively new to LinkedIn, they have permeated other platforms for a long time. Scammers started moving to LinkedIn perhaps after dating sites tried to crack down on them, [like] “Coffee meets bagel, Tender,” says Yuen.

In some ways, LinkedIn is a great way for scammers to expand their reach. “You’re probably already married and not on dating sites, but you probably have a LinkedIn account that you check occasionally,” Yuen says.

A LinkedIn scammer might try to connect with someone through a shared work experience, a shared hometown, or the feeling of living in a foreign country. Over 60% of the victims who came into contact with GASO are Chinese immigrants or of Chinese descent, which is what these actors rely on to evoke nostalgia or desire for companionship. False allegations of graduating from top Chinese universities, which are notoriously difficult to get into, also help scammers gain respect.

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