Scammers posing as Drexel University professor dupe student out of thousands of dollars

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Friday, February 2, 2024
Scammers posing as professor dupe student out of thousands of dollars
Scammers posing as Drexel University professor dupe student out of thousands of dollars

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A paid internship scam cost a local college student thousands of dollars.

Clayton Justice said he answered a job listing that appeared to have been posted by a Drexel University professor in October. It offered a paid internship as a research assistant.

"They were offering $500 to do some research on pharmaceuticals," Justice said.

The internship offer was supposedly being run by a Drexel University professor.

Justice, who is a biomedical engineering major at Case Western University, jumped at the chance - but first ran the email by his mother, who is an attorney.

"When I looked into it I was like, legitimate professor," said Kimberly Justice. "That's his area of study. It makes sense that they would do it."

"I was on my way to being a research assistant, or so I thought," Clayton Justice said.

Clayton quickly conducted the research and created a database before he sent it off to whom he thought was the Drexel professor.

"Five hundred dollars for about what, two, three hours of work? I thought it was a really good deal for me," he said.

But here's where the scam started to unfold. The criminals sent Clayton two checks, which totaled $3,620.

He was instructed to deposit them and then wait for them to clear and expect further directions.

Once the checks cleared, the 19-year-old was told to Venmo another research assistant in the program more than $3,000 for other work.

"I thought that was odd," he said.

He said against his better judgment he sent the money in two Venmo transactions.

"The next day, after I sent the $1,250 payment, I looked at my bank statement and I was in the negative for some reason," Clayton said. "I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it."

His mother then reached out to the real professor.

"The response I got back was they knew about it," she said. "And he's like, 'Oh, but I hadn't come across your son's name.'"

The real professor said in an email to Justice that the scheme was reported to Drexel's cybersecurity team. He also said he regretted it happened and warned students to be aware of emails that are not sent from his official accounts.

The Investigative Team reached out to Drexel University and a spokesperson told us that they were only aware of one incident involving the professor's identity.

The university said it cannot "intercept outside emails" but it "reports incidents of fraud and cybercrime to the proper authorities" and "sends periodic emails informing the Drexel community of new cybersecurity threats."

It was a warning that came too late for Justice, who said he wouldn't have received those warnings since he goes to a different college.

"It's kind of unfortunate. I lost some money. But I really want to prevent anybody else who is less fortunate than I am to lose that same amount of money," he said.

He believed he did his due diligence and couldn't believe he got duped.

"I was kind of mad at myself, more disappointed in myself, that I fell for the scam," he said.

The Investigative Team also learned Drexel was not the only target of this sort of scam. Other universities, including Penn State, have also issued warnings. It sent out an email warning students in January.

The Justices said they've since reported the crime to the state and federal authorities, but his bank refused to refund the $3,000 he lost - which is common.

The Federal Trade Commissioner offered these tips when accepting offers to work from home, but the biggest item is: never send money supposedly given to you as an overpayment back unless it was from a proven and trusted source. They warn many times scammers ask for these payments either electronically or even as gift cards.

Full Statement from Drexel University:

"Drexel University Information Security received an internal complaint about a non-Drexel email account impersonating a professor in Drexel's LeBow College of Business. While the University does not have the capability to intercept outside emails, Information Security reports incidents of fraud and cybercrime to the proper authorities.

The Federal Trade Commission publishes guidance for victims of job scams. In addition, Drexel helps its community to avoid being victims of such scams.

Drexel's cybersecurity awareness efforts for its community include mandatory annual training and quarterly phishing simulation exercises for faculty and professional staff. The University also sends periodic emails to all members of the Drexel community to inform them of new cybersecurity threats. Drexel University Information Security also offers voluntary cybersecurity training, holds in-person awareness events, delivers online lectures and publishes relevant information on its website."