NEW YORK — In a move to keep the platform clean, LinkedIn has removed a number of profiles of individuals claiming to be employees of PR recruitment firm Phifer & Co. after determining the accounts were fake.

A LinkedIn rep confirmed the profiles were taken down after a PRovoke Media investigation raised questions about their authenticity.

The supposed employees' profiles highlighted impressive careers at major companies — Omnicom, IPG, Publicis, Leo Burnett and P&G among them — and glowing testimonials from satisfied clients. One of the supposed employees purported to have been a VP of talent acquisition at Netflix.

The profiles (there were at least 11 of them) claimed that the individuals were based in New York, London and Beverly Hills and graduates of elite schools like Stanford, NYU Stern School of Business and King’s College London.

The job openings the supposed employees posted were attractive; one CCO job that was posted paid up to $600,000. CEO Brian Phifer told PRovoke Media that he regularly works to fill high-end openings. It is not clear, however, whether this particular job was real.

PRovoke Media also found that the pictures associated with these profiles appeared to be stock photos, taken from sites like Shutterstock and a Russian stock photo website. One profile featured a photo seemingly lifted from a skincare ad.

The apparent lack of authenticity appeared to go beyond using fake photos. While there is no evidence that this was deliberate, at least four of the apparently fake employees shared names with individuals who suffered violent deaths.

Following the removal of the profiles from LinkedIn, Phifer’s London office address disappeared from the company’s website as well.

Phifer, who launched Phifer & Co. in 1997, did not answer repeated requests for comment about the profiles in question, or how they came to be posted to LinkedIn.

“I don’t know what this is all about, and why someone is trying to defame me,” Phifer said in an email.

Phifer is widely known throughout the comms industry. He has nearly 55,000 followers on LinkedIn (that’s more than twice as many as comms recruiters with robust businesses) and includes agency CEOs (as well as PRovoke Media founder Paul Holmes and CEO Arun Sudhaman) among his 500-plus connections.

PRovoke Media spoke with a number of agency leaders for this story, many of whom hired Phifer over the years to fill vacancies or help them with their own job searches. None of them were willing to comment on the record.

Here’s a look at some of the profiles that have been removed by LinkedIn, and the supposed backgrounds of the individuals:

Sue MIddleton profile

Sue Middleton
: For the last six-plus years, Middleton worked as Phifer’s London managing director. She spent six years before that as the firm’s executive talent manager. A 1997 graduate of the University of Exeter, Middleton’s work experience included spending more than a dozen years starting in the year 2000  in talent acquisition at Omnicom Media Group UK and nearly three years as a Publicis senior recruiter before that.

Note: An Omnicom spokesperson said the company has no record of an employee named Sue Middleton working in a talent acquisition role at that time.

Screenshots and stock photography of the following profiles can be found in this folder.

Ralph Moore: Moore was Phifer’s managing director in Chicago, where he garnered nearly 25,000 LinkedIn followers through his recruiting work. Before joining Phifer 13 years ago, he worked in human resources at Leo Burnett and  brought a Northwestern University education to the role.

Note: “Moore” recently posted a New York fintech CCO job paying $450,000-$600,000 plus incentives.  Moore shared a name with
a California man who died after being attacked in 2002.

Caleb Johnson: Johnson, a VP, was an NYU graduate who earned his bachelor’s degree in international business in 2020 before joining Phifer as a recruiter straight out of school. Johnson spent four years in that role before being promoted to executive recruiter and, just 10 months ago, being made a VP.

In 2021, a New Orleans high school senior also named Caleb Johnson was killed in a double murder.

Chelsea Murphy: Murphy represented Phifer in the San Francisco area as a VP and executive recruiter.  She brought a prized education to the company, having graduated from Stanford University.

Chelsey Murphy also was the name of a 19-year-old pregnant woman killed by a teen driver while crossing the street in Naples, Florida.

Michael Brooks: Brooks was managing director of Phifer’s Beverly Hills office. His work spanned the advertising, PR and digital industries, garnering him nearly 27,000 LinkedIn followers. Earlier in his career, Brooks spent five years running his own firm, Brooks Staffing.

Note: We have been unable to find evidence that Brooks Staffing existed.

Kelly Shields: LA-based Shields was a Phifer senior VP who started working for the company in 2016. She joined Phifer from Netflix, where she spent six years as a VP of talent acquisition. Before that, Shields spent a total of seven years in recruiting positions at Amazon and IPG.

Note: An IPG employment verifier said the company has no record of an employee named  Kelly Shields.

Ellie Higgins: Higgins was a Phifer VP in London, who joined the firm after graduating from King’s College London.  A  supposed client, Julia Bendles, praised Higgins and two colleagues (whose profiles were also removed) in a post: “I can’t thank the team at Phifer & Co. enough! We had a very difficult position to fill in London and Paris. Sue, Charles and Ellie went above and beyond to find us multiple candidates for a very difficult industry. Cheers to you all and we’re very excited to partner with you on this next search!”

Note: We could not find proof of Julia Bendles on LinkedIn or elsewhere.

Duncan Turlington: Turlington, a New York senior VP, also had a robust LinkedIn following, which topped 19,000 people. He specialized in corporate comms, PR, marketing, digital and public affairs. Turlington spent three years as a P&G recruiter and four years in human resources at IBM before joining Phifer. He graduated from NYU business school.

Others included Morgan Harrington, who shared a name with
a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student whose 2009 murder received national attentionCharles Lafferty, a London-based senior VP; and New York-based Stephanie Roberts.

These profiles were in violation of LinkedIn’s policies, which prohibit fake profiles or fraudulent activity.

While the use of bots on other social media sites has received widespread coverage, LinkedIn’s most recent Transparency Report, which tracked activity from July to December 2023, said the platform stopped 46.3 million fake accounts at registrations, restricted 17.1 million before being reported by members and restricted another 232,400 after members reported them.

The  platform’s automated defenses blocked 90.5% of the fake accounts during that time, with the remaining 9.5% stopped by manual investigations and restrictions. 99.6% of the fake accounts were stopped proactively, before a member report, LinkedIn said.

LinkedIn technology also blocked 99.4% of spams or scams (108.3 million pieces) during the same period of time.

“Similar to our previous reporting periods, we continue to see record-high engagement and conversations from our growing community of over 1 billion members. With this, we also saw an overall increase in violative content compared to the previous reporting period, attributable to our enhanced safety features, technology, and messaging defenses,” LinkedIn said in the report.

“We do not tolerate any content that violates our Professional Community Policies, and take swift action to remove it. We won’t always get it right, so members can ask us to take a second look,” it said.