How Referral Key’s Spammy Practice Embarrassed Pollyanna

by Cathy Miller

in Miller Musings, On Business


It’s what networking is supposed to be all about.

A colleague sends you an email asking if you are still looking for clients and invites you to join his or her business network.

This Pollyanna fell for it line, hook, and sinker.

  • I clicked on the link
  • I completed my profile
  • I imported my LinkedIn connections

Little did Pollyanna know I set off a flood of emails of spammy proportions. Without my knowledge, the networking site, Referral Key, had sent an email – just like the one I received – to ALL of my LinkedIn connections.

Pollyanna was very red-faced.

Damage Control

How did I know the emails were sent?

I had a pretty big clue when my Inbox was instantly hit with 83 (to start) bounce-backs. Apparently, some of my smarter connections’ spam filters bounced the annoying email for what it was – spammy.

I sent a LinkedIn message apologizing to all my connections. I assured them I did not have knowledge of the invitations and I also assured them it was not how I work.

  • Most were very gracious
  • Some shared their own war stories
  • One claimed it attached a virus on his computer

I really don’t think that last one is true. I tested my own and no one else had a similar problem.

I think he wanted me to feel bad. He succeeded.

What Were They Thinking?

Referral Key promotes its site as one that ~

“lets small business owners easily share leads with trusted business associates.”

Yet, right off the bat, they violated my trust.

  • How is mass emailing considered networking?
  • If so many filters block it as spam, wouldn’t you think they’d get a clue?

Mea Culpa

If you read my business blog, Simply stated business, you know I am a big fan of LinkedIn. I have been from the start of my business.

  • Nearly 60 percent of my business started in one form or another with LinkedIn
  • I NEVER mass email my LinkedIn connections
  • I work hard at developing good business relationships

However, I take full responsibility for the error. 

With my Catholic roots showing~

Mea culpa – Mea culpa – Mea maxima culpa

Translation: Through my fault – through my fault – through my most grievous fault.

There are teeny, tiny boxes you can unclick so the emails don’t go out.

  • I won’t blame Boomer eyes (although I’m tempted)
  • I won’t point at my trusting Pollyanna nature (that is still alive & kicking)
  • I won’t blame the LinkedIn contact who sent the email to me (apparently, he’s also trusting – and unaware)

My Pollyanna nature is part of what makes me who I am.

But, that doesn’t mean the old girl can’t learn a thing or two. Next time, I’ll Google the site first.

Maybe then I would have found this rant post, Referral Key – Clogging The Arteries Of My Inbox With Spamabout the same subject.




BigStock Photo Credit

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

John Soares May 31, 2012 at 9:41 am

I forgive you Cathy! I figured it was one of those things where you didn’t uncheck a little box somewhere.

LinkedIn can do that too, if you’re not careful when you invite people through e-mail.
John Soares recently posted..Is a College Education Necessary to Be a Successful Freelance Writer?My Profile


Cathy May 31, 2012 at 10:31 am

LOL, John! 😀 I am so relieved. I can’t believe the amount of extra work it has caused me – answering emails, groveling some more. Live and learn.

I’m glad I can check you off my list of those who forgive me. :-)


Sharon Hurley Hall May 31, 2012 at 10:49 am

No need to prostrate yourself, Cathy; these things happen. It’s not the first time I’ve had those from that site, but it should be the last (fingers crossed). I’ve deleted my account too.


Cathy May 31, 2012 at 10:58 am

It’s good to have friends, Sharon. :-) It’s the newer contacts and those that don’t know me that upset me the most.


Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A. May 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm

This is akin to the other spam-o-whammo! Stik. It sure does stick it to you!
Thanks for the warning about its kissing cousin!
Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A. recently posted..Small Business Says?My Profile


Cathy May 31, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I hadn’t heard about Stik-so thank you, Roy, for THAT warning. :-)


Ann Mullen May 31, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Cathy, It is so hard to catch on to vicious crap like that. As much as I want the net to stay free, I wish there was a prison for spammers where they could never get out. Sorry for the mini-vent, but this stuff makes me mad. Good blog and it was not your fault. You fell for con. It happens.


Cathy May 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Hi Ann: Actually it wasn’t a con, just a bad idea of marketing – in my opinion. I don’t know why they think flooding an address list with emails would be good marketing.

I only imported the list, thinking I would have it there for my use to see who was in th network and who I might want to invite. I was still completing my profile and didn’t even know emails went out. It certainly wasn’t obvious.

Oh well, at least it gave me a new blog post topic. :-) Thanks for sharing your view. I think a lot of us share your opinion.


Suerae Stein May 31, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Oh poor Pollyanna! That’s something that you cannot take the blame for. It’s better to be a Pollyanna than a jaded skeptic. I think that has happened to most of us at one point. (At least those of us Pollyannas)! Your post made me laugh – thank you!
Suerae Stein recently posted..Pretty in PinkMy Profile


Cathy May 31, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Suerae: I agree-I would rather be a Pollyanna then a cynic or skeptic. I’m glad I made you laugh. What else can you do? :-) Thanks for stopping by, Suerae.


Daniel Robertson May 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm

All is forgiven, Cathy.

Apparently they think that getting massive numbers of people to their site in this way will help them flourish.
Daniel Robertson recently posted..What Does it Take To Be a Well Paid Freelance Writer?My Profile


Cathy May 31, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Thanks, Daniel. Yeah, I just don’t get that strategy.


Wade Finnegan May 31, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Cathy don’t beat yourself up over this. It’s no big thing. I just had a big discussion with a colleague about trust and how important it is for relationships, all relationships. Referral key violated that with you and most likely will never regain it. This is an important lesson to learn for our business.


Cathy June 1, 2012 at 5:59 am

Thanks, Wade. Part of my reason for blogging about this is so others don’t make my same mistake. And, of course, to rant. 😀 Thanks for your support, Wade.


Anne Wayman June 1, 2012 at 8:58 am

Cathy I got your email apologizing, but as near as I can tell I didn’t get the spam… I use nod32 as my anti-virus, anti fishing software and it’s pretty darn good plus it’s lean… is the company.


Cathy June 1, 2012 at 9:34 am

Fortunately, Anne, several of my contacts’ spam filters blocked it. I was just covering all my bases. Thanks for the tip on the software.


Samar | The Writing Base June 2, 2012 at 3:18 am

Uh oh. Mine didn’t and I signed up. Don’t know what I did wrong but it blocked my account for 48 hours. Now I’m wondering if it sent an email to everyone on my Linkedin account.

I never got to the point of linking any social network to Referral Key though.

These things happen Cathy. If I find out that my Linkedin contacts got a Referral Key email from me, I’ll just take a leaf out of your email :)


Cathy June 2, 2012 at 5:26 am

If you didn’t import your connections, you should be okay, Samar.

I imported them and thought I could see who was already in the network. I also thought I would have control over sending invitations, which I MIGHT do after I had time to see what the network was like. Even at that, I’d probably just blog about it as opposed to sending actual invitations – definitely not my style.

I was still completing my profile when the emails went out (I had no clue it happened). Duh.

It was also difficult to find the teeny, tiny print at the bottom that allowed me to Cancel my account. Live and learn is right. :-)

Thanks for stopping by, Samar.


Inspiration to Dream June 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Hi Cathy,

I’m new to your site and while I’ve been blogging and writing for quite a while, I’m extremely new to Linked In – like in the last week. Posts like this are exceptionally useful for us newbies to avoid some of these traps.

Thanks for sharing
Inspiration to Dream recently posted..Making the most of itMy Profile


Cathy June 4, 2012 at 7:00 am

Glad you found it helpful. Visit my business writing blog, Simply stated business and put in the search term LinkedIn and you’ll find a ton of posts about the platform. It’s one of my favorites. :-)

Thanks for stopping by, and much success!

P.S. Love your moniker. 😉


Lori June 5, 2012 at 7:00 am

Cathy, don’t feel badly. When it came to me, I checked it out and apparently already had an account! I don’t remember signing up, so it may be one of those email-collection scams. Whatever. I never give them my work email anyway. Let them spam the hell out of my junk email box. :)


Cathy June 5, 2012 at 7:04 am

You’re so clever, Lori. :-) Apparently, quite a few spam filters blocked them, so that was a good thing.


Andrea May 17, 2013 at 7:58 am

Thanks for taking the time to write this blog. i have just had the invite e-mail. I Googled Referral Key and got your page. You saved the day!


Cathy May 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Hi Andrea:

Sorry for the late reply. You got blocked by my spam filter. I’m glad you caught this before undergoing the same embarrassment I did. Lesson learned. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know, Andrea.


Michael Mba January 28, 2014 at 3:58 am

Hi Cathy,

Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. I too just got one of these emails, but thankfully, as you have learned, I always google anything I don’t trust that appears legit. I also make sure to check out more than one article on the subject, and then decide what to do.

I certainly don’t want my contacts on Linkedin alienating me, so I won’t be signing up, and I’ll make sure all future emails from Referral key end up in the bin. :)

Again, thanks for sharing.



Cathy Miller January 28, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Hi Michael: I’m glad you didn’t get sucked into that. I was quite embarrassed and I cannot believe they are still doing that spammy method of “connecting”.

Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. Happy to commiserate with you. 😉


Katherine January 30, 2014 at 7:32 pm

I googled and your post among those that came up. I really enjoyed it, informative too. I got a bunch of these emails today from connections. I’ve shared your post on Linkedin.


Cathy Miller February 1, 2014 at 9:08 am

Thanks, Katherine. I guess they must be going through another spammy blitz. I appreciate you sharing my post.


Igor Barbaric April 7, 2014 at 2:00 am

Dear Cathy,
Given the number of “lives” your blog has saved (my own added), your total “embarrassment” balance might have already turned to positive! :-)
Thanks for sharing your experience and saving my reputation!


Cathy Miller April 7, 2014 at 6:39 am

Who knew I was doing “life-saving” work? 😀 Glad I was able to help, Igor. You know what they say – success is the best revenge. 😉


Bridgette April 8, 2014 at 11:30 am

Thanks so much for posting. I received the same email, and reached out directly to the connection from whom it was sent. He didn’t even realize it had gone out. So glad I found this before *I* signed up!


Cathy Miller April 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm

So glad I saved you, Bridgette. 😉 I cannot believe that nearly 2 years later they are using the same spammy (in my view) tactics.

I think it would be the rare exception who actually knowingly flood their LinkedIn contacts with this. Thanks for sharing your story, Bridgette.


Sunny Walker April 19, 2014 at 10:58 am

Thanks so much – this Pollyanna just did the same thing. The best that’s come out of it is all the people who are writing to see if I sent it (well, yes I did) and to let me know referral key is spammy – so yes, now I KNOW. AND yet, I’ve reconnected with a lot of people – that’s the great part. And I’m recommending, even if they don’t ask, that they consider saying NO. Now on to getting it stopped. Is that even possible? Mea culpa, too.


Cathy Miller April 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm

That’s making lemonade out of lemons, Sunny. 😉 You can have your Referral Key account deleted. As I mentioned in my Comment to Samar, at the time I cancelled I had to search for the tiny print that allowed me to cancel.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Sunny.


bikeamtn May 1, 2014 at 7:16 am

Having worked/connected with many high-profile clients, I’m also very protective with trusted relationships built over the years. For me; it’s not unlike work in television, when one wanders on-set wishing to mingle with ‘A-list’ talent, now it’s by virtual cyber mingling and/or ‘tagging’ with a touch of cyber-eavesdropping as some apps are designed to monitor your contact list and browser history.


Cathy Miller May 1, 2014 at 10:22 am

Good analogy. Although from my perspective, anyone should be able to expect what they want kept private, remains private.

Thanks for weighing in on the subject.


Huey May 17, 2014 at 9:34 am

Hi Cathy, thanks for the post. I received such email and thank my lucky star that I decided to google before I sent the invites in ReferralKey and found your post. Thanks and cheers.


Cathy Miller May 19, 2014 at 11:44 am

Don’t you just love Google? At least for that reason. 😉 I’m glad you did not get snagged, Huey. Thanks for commenting.


Jack Campin May 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I don’t see how this behaviour is any worse than what LinkedIn does themselves already. I have repeatedly had “invites” from people on LinkedIn, always unsolicited on my part, usually sent unwittingly by the other party, and always repeated three times. This is simply an electronic chain letter.

As far as I’m concerned LinkedIn are spammers, I will never use their service, and I hope they crawl into a hole and die. Knowing that somebody is a member of LinkedIn would be a reason for me to want nothing to do with them.


Cathy Miller May 22, 2014 at 6:36 am

Interesting point, Jack. I only recently learned through an unscientific poll I wrote about at my business writing blog that LinkedIn was doing that. It is under the heading, Loathing spam.

You’re right, similar to Referral Key, there is a small box that is pre-checked to send emails to all imported contacts from your address book. And I agree, Jack. It mirrors Referral Key’s spammy tactic. I don’t feel the same way as you do about LinkedIn. Not because of LinkedIn but because of the good contacts I’ve made there. Every social media platform has its flaws.

I do thank you for sharing your view, Jack. I guess it’s safe to say I won’t see you around LinkedIn. 😉


Christian May 7, 2015 at 9:22 am

I received that email right now. Good thing I googled it first. Thank you Cathy!


Cathy Miller May 8, 2015 at 7:05 am

I am glad you did not get pulled into it, Christian. 😉


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