Mobile Deposit Scam – Paid Research Assistant Position for Students

phone taking picture of check for mobile deposit
Published | April 4, 2024

In April of 2023, ITS was alerted to this particular scam. We’re getting reports of similar phishing messages being sent to students again. Please review the information below to keep yourself aware and informed.

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Originally published April 20, 2023

As the end of the academic year approaches, bad actors are using the fake promise of internships, paid research and/or summer jobs to lure students into falling for a mobile check deposit scam. The hoax is initiated through phishing messages found in emails and on social media.

ITS was made aware of a recent phishing post on a Facebook group for W&L parents advertising a paid research opportunity “sponsored” by the Department of Economics. A few suspicious things stand out about this phish. It emphasized a clear sense of urgency to fill the position right away. The notice was sent from outside official job posting channels (e.g., Facebook rather than Campus Notices, HR, Workday, etc.) by a “new member” of the group. Finally, applicants were asked to respond by text with their personal information to a posted mobile number. Red flags like these can help you spot a scam and stop it in its tracks.

How does the mobile deposit scam work?

The goal of this particular scam is to get a conversation started with the victim that leads to an offer of employment. The scammer then sends a fake check ($2,807 in this case) via PDF attachment and asks the victim to cash the check using mobile deposit to cover future travel and supplies. This seemingly legitimate payment often then comes with a vague request to immediately return a certain amount, but not all, via certified funds like a cashier’s check or money order, wire transfer, or to purchase gift cards. Once the criminal receives the “overpayment” from the victim, there’s no opportunity to get the stolen money back.

Screenshot of the recent phishing message targeting W&L students.

Facebook message screenshot that says:  The washington and lee university department of economics, in conjunction with the undergraduate research opportunity program (urop) urgently requires the service of students as research assistants, whose mentoring/teaching and engagement with contribute to our interconnected goals of excellence, diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are to work remotely and get paid $350 weekly.

The research position applications are open to students from any academic department, and tasks can be done remotely. It givevs excellent opportunities for students to study and earn money, including assigned research work, mentorship, travel funding, and program-based professional development opportunities related to scholarship and teaching to prepare them for possible tenure-track appointments in the Institution. All this could be achieved without affecting academic performance or leisure time. Tasks can be carried out remotely with less work time a week.

To proceed with the application process and other eligibility descriptions, don't hesitate to get in touch with Prof. at 555-**** via text message acknowledging your full name, email address, year of study and department to receive the job description and further application instructions. Best regards, C/O

If you receive a suspicious message in your W&L email account, be sure to use the Phish Alert Button to report it. If unsure, you can always contact the ITS Helpdesk at X4357 or for further assistance.

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