How to Keep Scammers Out of Your Professional Network
It’s easy to be a scammer in a digital world, and if a scammer ends up in your network, it’s easy to fall for their scam. It’s essential to build a scammer-free professional network to protect yourself and the other people in your network. To do that, you need to set limits to keep scammers out.
See Building a Scammer Free Professional Network with Ken Rutkowski for a complete transcript of the Easy Prey podcast episode.
Growing up in Chicago, Ken Rutkowski wanted to become a Jesuit priest – at least until he realized everything he would have to give up to do that. After ruling out the priesthood, he initially became a coder, but in the mid-90s decided to try radio. His radio show, Business Rockstars, eventually ended up at number nine in the United States with 3.5 million daily listeners. He created the first podcasting environment and helped create GrandCentral, the company that eventually became Google Voice.
In 1999, Ken sold all his companies and moved to Los Angeles. In LA, he met a lot of people who he dubbed “$30,000 millionaires” – people who weren’t rich and didn’t have it all, but pretended they did. It didn’t take him long to realize how many of them were fakes, but it did take him nearly two years to remove all the impostors from his network. He realized that to keep scammers out of his professional network and create a scammer-free space, he had to create a community of accountable people.
I realized that I had to create a real community of accountable people.Ken Rutkowski
A Virtual Check to Spot Scammers
It’s easy to be a fake person or a scammer in a digital world. Most people are on Facebook and an image-based platform like Instagram, and those kinds of networks are easy to fake. If you’re trying to find out if you have a scammer or fake person in your network, search for them on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is indexed by Google immediately. If you search for somebody’s name, their LinkedIn profile is usually in the top results, and you can see how long the profile has been up. A profile that’s only a couple days or weeks old is suspicious.
Once you’ve found their LinkedIn profile, do a reverse image search on Google. See if the image is anywhere else. Some scammers trying to infiltrate your network will use a stock photo they bought or stole off another website, and you’ll find that out with this search. There are AI tools that let you create fake images, so if the picture is nowhere else and there’s nothing similar in the search results, that’s also a red flag. Your goal is to see if there’s some history of that image. Ken does this right away with every new person he meets.
If you’re the kind of person who gets spammed with people trying to connect with you so they can sell you their services, take a second to look at the company the person works for. If their LinkedIn profile says they work for Rutkowski SEO, but you Google the company and it doesn’t have a website and doesn’t seem to exist, that’s another red flag.
Ken’s Top Tip to Spot Scammers
Ken’s top tool for checking if people in his professional network are real is simple: FaceTime. A video call lets him make sure there is a real person behind the profile. He can see if that person matches their profile picture. If they have a digital background on, Ken asks them to turn it off. He has a greenscreen behind him for most calls, but even if it’s nothing exciting, forming that personal relationship face-to-face without filters or backgrounds reassures him that he’s talking to a real, genuine person who could become part of his community.
If there’s only one thing you do to check if the person trying to join your professional network is a scammer or a genuine person, it should be getting on a video call with them.
The $30,000 millionaire types, the ones who are faking, look genuine from a distance. They have the right suit, the right watch, and the right car, but those things are generally rented or borrowed. They name-drop, they humble-brag, they have to meet now, and everything is time-sensitive. So to make sure you’re not dealing with an impostor, remove time-sensitivity from the equation. Tell them, “I’d love to get together, but I don’t have time right now. Let’s do this further in the future.”
Ken also likes to make sure it’s not just him meeting them. Sometimes he’ll bring three or four other friends into the meeting because the friends provide a different perspective. A trusted friend can say, “That’s not a good person, you shouldn’t spend time with them,” and point out red flags you didn’t see.
Spotting Scammers through Friendships
When you have that video call or meeting with a new connection, talk about things other than business. Ken judges a person’s ability to connect by how long they’ve had friends. If someone has great friends that they’ve known for decades, that shows stability. If all of their friendships are recent, he considers that a red flag.
I can always tell someone on their ability to connect by how long they’ve had friends.Ken Rutkowski
Scammers and fraudsters can fake online verification if they’re dedicated enough. But a person’s friendships are like their real world verification. If you ask someone to tell you about their social circle and you find out all their relationships are only a few months old, that’s a red flag. But if that this person has had friends for ten or twenty years, that’s a sign of genuine connection.
Setting a Bar to Keep Scammers Out
Ken sets a very high bar for who he wants in his social circle. He doesn’t have time to hang out with everybody – and neither do you, so you have to pick the right people. If you’re thinking about going to see a movie in a theater, you probably check the reviews. You want to make sure the ROI is real, that you’ll get enough enjoyment out of the movie to justify the two hours and $30 you spent to watch it.
You should be doing the same thing with people you’re connecting with. They are going to take up a lot more of your time and energy than a movie. A little research and a video call will give you an idea if this connection is going to provide a good ROI. It may sound shallow, but a good connection can be emotionally satisfying and financially beneficial, but a bad one can be emotionally draining, expensive, and time-wasting. It deserves more consideration than a two-hour movie.
Not setting a bar and allowing anyone to connect with you is how you get scammers and fraudsters in your professional network.Ken Rutkowski
Building A Network That Keeps Scammers Out
Think about relationships like a pyramid, with best friends at the top and acquaintances at the bottom.
Best Friends. The people who are the very closest to you. Most people have 2-3.
Great Friends. These people could easily move into your Best Friends category if you had room there. Most people have 10 or fewer of these friends
Good Friends. You know their wives’ and kids’ names and the important things happening in their lives. Most people have less than 50 of these friends.
Friends. You know their faces and at least their first names, you see them on a regular if infrequent basis, and you would like to know them better.
Acquaintances. You recognize their face and you’ll say hello to them if you run into them, but you may not even know their name.
Your circle of trust is with your Best and Great Friends, and possibly some of your Good Friends. These are people that you’ve known for years and have a strong bond with. These are people who have characteristics that you connect with. Ken spends 90% of his time at the top of his pyramid, in his circle of trust. There is limited trust in the acquaintance zone, and scammers will take advantage of that.
If you want to remove scammers from your life, live at the top of your relationship pyramid.Ken Rutkowski
People can be promoted or demoted. It’s pretty common for Friends and Good Friends to switch back and forth between those two levels. But if you’re living your life at the top of your pyramid, surrounded by people you know intimately and trust completely, it’s nearly impossible for a scammer to connect at the acquaintance level and wiggle their way all the way up the pyramid to where they can scam you.
To create a scammer-free network like that, you have to create a like-minded environment for constant discussion. You have to build your professional network around trust and accountability from the ground up.
How Ken Created His Scammer-Free Network
With social media, the definition of “friend” has changed to anyone you’ve had a passing connection with and decided to add on Facebook, even if you’ve never talked in real life. To create a safe community and keep scammers out, Ken set a rule: If you want to know me, you have to meet me. Even if it’s just a video call, he requires a personal connection to join his community.
With those people he has connected with, he created WhatsApp or Telegram groups to gather for deep discussions. Each group has no more than 10 people, and they have rules. The first rule is that if you’re in the group, you have to engage. People at the bottom of the pyramid tend to be passive. They “like” posts on Facebook or wish people “Happy Birthday” on LinkedIn but don’t have actual conversations. If you’re part of Ken’s community, you have to engage.
Another thing Ken does is in-person events. He has an organization called METAL (Media, Entertainment, Technology, Artists, Leaders) that has regularly scheduled meetings at least once a week. These groups also have rules. Ken banned the two main topics that divide people – religion and politics – so they can have deep, intense discussions without breaking out into fights.
Part of having a strong community is elevating people to where they can become the best version of themselves. But part of it is also removing them if they become a problem. Sometimes people aren’t a great fit, and sometimes things change and someone who was a great fit isn’t anymore. Having a person in your network who doesn’t fit can become a cancer to your social circle.
Everybody should create their own social circle where they bring people in and fire them fast if there’s a problem with them.Ken Rutkowski
One of the most valuable things about Ken’s network is everyone’s ability to protect each other. By having honest conversations and building trust, they can warn each other when a scammer tries to sneak in. They can also protect each other from being scammed out of energy and time, two resources Ken considers just as important as money and that scammers will also try to steal. A community built on trust and accountability will keep scammers out and keep its members safe.
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