• Alistair Nicholas

Beware the China honey traps of LinkedIn


Many people may think the very notion of China honey traps on LinkedIn and other social media platforms is a fanciful idea that probably belongs in spy novels and films. But rest assured that is not the case. Take it from me as I have found myself increasingly the target of scammers of one type or another on the professional networking platform. I have no doubt some of them are Chinese honey traps, as a recent example (see below) attests.


It probably caused more than a few chuckles when Senator James Paterson recently commented in relation to China setting honey traps on social media platforms to esnare potentially useful targets that “if you’re a six and she is a 10, it might not be your looks that they have been charmed by”.


But there was considerable truth in the good senator's comment.


I’ve certainly always followed what I’m now calling the “Paterson Principle of Beauty Attraction on Social Media”. After all, I am no George Clooney and there must be some other explanation for some of the social media invitations I have received, including on LinkedIn.


Consequently, I have handled the - dare I say it - advances of these “internet beauties” with a great deal of caution. For the most part I have declined their LinkedIn approaches out of hand if the writer's professional background is not a natural fit with my own or if they don’t seem to offer something that would be complementary to my business interests. With most of these inexplicable approaches I just hit LinkedIn's “Ignore” button. I have also reported a small number if they looked like phishing or some other type of scam.


I have noticed in recent times an increase in advances by these internet beauties on other platforms too. In fact, they have expanded their approaches beyond LinkedIn to WhatsApp and even SMS text messages. I haven’t been targeted on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, Wechat or other social media platforms simply because I am not on them. But I am sure the honey traps are being set across all these platforms. Social media networking platforms must be a "target rich" environment for espionage agents. No doubt our own agents are also active on these platforms.


Almost caught in a Singapore sling


One recent advance I experienced on LinkedIn is instructive.


A Singapore-based woman invited me to connect with her. I was suspicious, but I decided to give the invitee the benefit of the doubt because of her outstanding professional profile. She was, according to her profile, a HR manager in the regional division of a Big Four management consultancy firm. While I am not looking for employment opportunities, I was interested in the invitation because I have provided my consultancy services to these international firms in the past. I thought this lady might be a useful contact for some regional projects with her prestigious employer.


Within minutes of accepting her invitation I received a series of direct messages from this lady via LinkedIn's direct messaging feature. She asked me if I would be interested in meeting when she visited Sydney in a few months’ time.


“Why not?”, I thought. I suggested she drop me a line once her travel plans had firmed so we could set up a time and place for a coffee meeting. In very quick succession she was suggesting we connect on WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook instead because she checks those platforms more frequently than LinkedIn.


A red flag went up immediately, in my mind. I responded that LinkedIn worked better for me.

She immediately said she prefers the other social media platforms for “friendship and personal connections”.


Loud alarm bells now accompanied the red flag in my head. “She’s a 10 and I’m probably a three … on a good day,” I thought to myself. “There's no reason for her to want to make friends as she knows nothing about me beyond my professional profile. This looks like a honey-trap,” the good-angel voice in my head said. Therefore, I responded that given that she had invited me via LinkedIn and that as I had presumed the invitation was of a professional nature and work-related, we should keep our contact professional by maintaining communications via LinkedIn at least until our meeting when she visited Australia.


She not only failed to respond to this last message, but she also blocked me without further ado.


Caution the better part of valour


I share this anecdote so readers can learn from it and protect themselves on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.


Honey-traps, catfishing, phishing, and other scams are frequent occurrences on the internet. I have no idea what the supposed Singaporean HR manager’s intentions were. Was she a spy or a blackmailer or a financial fraudster? I will never know what her intent might have been, but the one thing I knew from the way the conversation had played out was that her intent was certainly nefarious.


The moral of the story is don’t let your ego get the better of you. Instead, try and test your new contact’s bona fides before you find yourself compromised and having to call the authorities for help, as happened with several Australian politicians a few years ago.


And keep in mind, it is not just Chinese honey traps you need to be wary of. There are also Russian and Nigerian scammers on the internet. For some strange reason I also receive many requests to connect on LinkedIn from women apparently serving in the US military - which I also decline with regularity as I suspect many of the images and identities of the women have been stolen for catfishing purposes; at least I cannot imagine why they would want to connect with me.


I’m sure honey traps are set by criminal and other elements of all other nationalities and cultures. You therefore cannot afford to let your guard down.


Next time you are not sure about an approach you have received on LinkedIn (or another social media platform), take a look in the mirror and ask yourself why this person may be targeting you.


(Photo by ochimax studio via Unsplash.com)

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