Philip Guarino, a career coach at the Boston College Career Center, picked up his phone on March 1 to answer what he assumed would be a normal call.
“I introduced myself on the phone, expecting it to be a typical call from a college student to the Career Center,” he said. “And then the student asked, ‘Have we met before?’ And I said ‘No, we have not met before.’”
According to Guarino, the student said she received an email inviting her to apply for a job at BC from someone using his name. Later, as the student waited in line to buy four $100 gift cards for the job, she began to question its legitimacy, Guarino said. She then decided to call Guarino’s desk phone.
“At that moment … the student who realized that she had been scammed was able to confirm she had been scammed, and I then realized why she was calling,” Guarino said.
This unexpected phone call is just one example of a larger pattern at BC. David Escalante, BC’s director of computer policy and security, said that online scammers have been targeting BC email addresses, promising students jobs that pay upward of $350 per week.
“Many students who fell for this lost hundreds of dollars, and several students lost thousands of dollars,” Escalante said.
Escalante said the University first noticed this particular scam last summer. BC’s Information Technology Services later sent two warning emails to students about the scam, one on Sept. 8 and another on Feb. 4.
According to Escalante, the targeted nature of these emails toward BC students is important to the scam.
“Some of the scams out on the Internet are not targeted — ‘You won a gift card, click here’ works on anyone,” Escalante said in an email to The Heights. “The fact that this scam is targeted is likely part of its relative success.”
The scam typically involves a few consistent steps, Escalante said. First, students receive an email that appears to be sent from a BC faculty member that offers remote, part-time work. Students who reply are then told to submit their resumes.
The scammers next “hire” the student and instruct them to buy gift cards. The students are told to send the gift card information to the scammers, who then become unreachable.
The scammers’ decision to target BC students, Escalante said, is likely related to a variety of factors.
“Possibly because BC is a private school they think BC students might be better off financially, [or] possibly they have some avenue to acquire students’ emails,” he said. “BC’s web site publishes a great deal of information about faculty and (some) staff, which makes it easier for scammers to craft a credible fake ‘From:’ message.”
It is unclear how the scammers are acquiring BC email addresses, and the University has struggled to block the spam messages, Escalante said, as scammers will typically send 300 to 400 emails before anti-spam AI blocks the messages.
“Modern spam filtering is done via artificial intelligence, and the filtering isn’t like it was many years ago when you could just say, ‘Block any email with the phrase ‘remote job’ in it,’” he said. “For reasons the anti-spam vendors have not explained, their AI isn’t catching these scams well.”
Escalante said that out of 10,000 undergraduates and 15,000 students, the scam emails will eventually be blocked, with only a few students receiving them.
“But if 1% of the actual recipients it got through to think it’s real and fall for it, that’s 3 or 4 people out of 300 or 400 messages, right?” Escalante said. “So that number’s not good at all.”
Lina Sora, MCAS ’25, said she received one such email describing a remote research assistant position on campus that would pay $350 a week. After emailing back and forth with someone claiming to work in BC’s computer science department, she gave the scammer her phone number.
“I had gotten a couple of them before and I was like, ‘Oh, if I keep getting them, it must be legit,’” Sora said. “So I was like, ‘This seems like a cool opportunity, and I need money, so I might as well.’”
The scammer did not immediately request Sora for money. Instead, the scammer asked her a series of questions about her major, school, and class year, which she said heightened her belief this was a legitimate job offer. The scammer’s increased spelling and grammatical errors, however, began to raise her suspicions, she said.
“The spelling errors and grammar and everything was making me realize it was a scam, but then I showed my friends and they were like ‘This happened to another person we know—it’s definitely a scam,’” she said.
According to Sora, the scammer blocked her after she sent a text asking if “this was a scam.”
Like Sora, Joshua Deanda-Whaley, LSEHD ’25 opened his inbox to find an email advertising a research position that paid $350 a week. Deanda-Whaley said the email, which he received around October or November, had BC watermarks.
“At first, I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool. This would be a good opportunity,’” Deanda-Whaley said. “So I thought it was pretty legit at first, and as time went on, I became more suspicious of it—but that [was] when I got to interact more with the scammer.”
While trying to adjust to campus as a new student, Deanda-Whaley said he felt pressure to find a job, especially as a student with a work-study grant and without much knowledge of how it worked.
Deanda-Whaley said the scammer was very persuasive when communicating with him.
“They were like, ‘Get your application with us and then we can review it,’ and it seemed very time sensitive,” Deanda-Whaley said. “It gave me kind of a sense of urgency.”
The scammer informed Deanda-Whaley that his last step would be to buy a spreadsheet software he would need for the job. While Deanda-Whaley said he originally expected to just purchase a code for the software, the scammers told him to buy gift cards.
Deanda-Whaley said this was when he first became suspicious, but he still purchased one $50 Apple gift card. He said he did not turn the card in because the scammer’s behavior grew more alarming.
“They started giving me calls when I was starting to sort of ghost them a little bit. … They’d call me and hang up, and then they’d be like ‘Josh, do you still want this,’” Deanda-Whaley said.
Escalante said the “get me a gift card” scam is not new, but wrapping the scam in the promise of remote work is new since the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are three general reasons why students fall for the scam, Escalante said. First, they never saw the warning emails sent to students about the scam. Second, they saw the warning emails, but the scammers were still persuasive. Third, they communicated with the scammers on their phones, which he said can lead to missing indicators that the email is a scam.
According to Escalante, there are steps students can take to protect themselves from scammers, including not responding to unsolicited job offers and not using their BC email address to sign up for things online. Students can also use privacy preferences in the Agora Portal to protect other people from seeing their email address.
Guarino said the most disturbing part of the scam is how sophisticatedly it was executed, having clearly been done before. After he learned that a scammer was using his name to deceive students, Guarino notified the Career Center and the Boston College Police Department (BCPD).
“[BCPD] told me this is not the first time it’s happened at BC, preying on a student who’s really trying to do the right thing—find an internship or a job—and impersonating a person at the University,” he said.
Sora said she was also distrubed by the scam and knowing that someone wanted to take advantage of her.
“I never really had realized that I could fall into [a scam] so easy,” Sora said.
Deanda-Whaley said he felt discouraged after being scammed.
“I felt dumb, and telling my friends was a whole other thing,” Deanda-Whaley said. “But it’s kind of like a joke now.”
Though Sora said she believes most students know by now that there is a scam targeting BC email addresses, not enough of them are fully aware of how the scam works.
“I feel like there could definitely be more emails, like periodically, to make sure everyone knows [about the scam],” Sora said.
Deanda-Whaley said that although he has heard about similar scams before, he was still not prepared when he received the initial scam email.
“I wasn’t really prepared,” he said. “You hear about scams or whatever, but coming from an academic setting, I … wasn’t too aware of it.”