The Drexel University police department is alerting members of the University community about phone and internet scams targeting your money and identity, and how to combat the issue responsibly.
Scams over phone calls or other digital means are becoming increasingly serious threats and several students and staff have already fallen victim, according to Drexel police officers Thomas Cirone and Kim McClay.
“If you receive an email or phone call [asking] for personal information or for any kind of money, it’s not legitimate,” Officer McClay said. “I cannot think of any circumstance where that would, in any way, be legitimate.”
While all students may be affected by these types of scams, certain groups on campus – like the international student population – are bigger targets, according to Cirone.
“The international student [population] can be a target,” he said. “We do presentations with international students every year and before new [students] come in every term, as well as [regularly] at the English Language Center.”
Scammers can intimidate anyone, but international students are targeted specifically with false but sensitive information, like an issue with their student visa.
“They [want to] peak your interest [by knowing] even a little bit of information – to scare you into believing it’s legitimate,” McClay said.
Drexel Police emphasizes that any contact from official agencies would not be conducted via email or telephone call, so these types of communications should always be assumed as scams.
“The FBI [and other agencies] are not going to call you by phone, and [the Social Security Administration] is not going to call you,” McClay said. “They are just not going to do that.”
“We go over [these topics in presentations],” Cirone said. “We say, ‘If you are getting this over the phone … it’s not real’. Ten out of ten times, it’s not legitimate. Don’t fall for it.”
Anyone receiving what they believe to be a suspicious phone call has the right to hang up or ask for a number to verify and return the call, according to McClay. They are then advised to report the call to Drexel Police to investigate and determine whether or not it is safe.
“What I encourage is, if you get something that you are even the least bit suspicious of, and the minute you think it’s suspicious, [ask for a number to return the call],” she said. “More often than not, that puts an end to it, but you can bring the number [to Drexel Police] and the officer will [investigate].”
“Give yourself the power and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’,” Cirone said.
In a scenario like this, international students may even contact their international student advisors to report the suspicious call.
The threat of scams via phone call is not widespread, but it does happen, according to McClay. And, recently, it has been happening more often and to more people. Drexel Police has received reports of students, faculty and advisors all being scammed.
“Even I get [scam] emails on my Drexel [account] from an African prince in a wealthy nation [who] needs to unload money,” Cirone said.
Regarding suspicious emails, Drexel Police says it is best to delete the message altogether and not click on any links embedded in the message. Instead, research the linked website yourself.
It is also important to keep Drexel accounts and personal accounts safe. Do not share passwords with anyone, and be cautious of posting on social media platforms. Even when profiles are set to “private,” anybody can screenshot and share content, Drexel Police said.
The Information Technology department at Drexel works consistently to maintain the privacy and security of Drexel accounts, but is fighting an uphill battle, Cirone said.
“Our [IT department] here at Drexel is always working on security,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process – as criminals [invent] new ways [to scam] and technology gets better, they figure out ways to gain access to information. It’s hard for IT and law enforcement to keep up.”
“And I don’t see it coming to an end anytime soon,” McClay said. “It’s a big business.”
Dr. Pablo Molina, Drexel’s Chief Information Security Officer, said the best way to defend against scams is the “All That Glitters Is Not Gold” method. Think carefully before opening a link or responding to a message. Always be sure to verify the identity of the sender, as well.
“If something does not feel right, stop the conversation or email exchange, and call the organization’s official contact number [or the] Drexel IT Help Desk when in doubt,” Molina said.
Drexel does contract Microsoft for email, which includes Advanced Threat Protection, an anti-spam filtering service. If a suspicious message does get through, Molina advises to forward it to [email protected].
Although most scams occur over phone calls or email, Drexel Police says students need to be aware of potential threats in other forms, like person-to-person encounters, which are just as serious.
“Of course, there are person-to-person [cases],” Cirone said. “[For instance], on the street, ‘I have a check but I can’t cash it. Can you take the money out of your account, I’ll sign you the check, and you can cash it.’ They go inside the bank and [realize] it’s not a real check, not a real account – nothing is real about it, and the other person is gone.”
McClay says people are willing to cash someone else’s check for different reasons if they are asked to.
For members of the Drexel community who plan to make an in-person transaction – whether as seller or purchaser – they can complete it in Drexel’s “Safe Online Transaction Zone. The 24-hour space is monitored by video surveillance and a security officer to ensure the legitimacy of the transaction.
“We have someone in [the Safe Online Transaction Zone] at [3219 Arch Street] 24 hours a day,” Cirone said. “They are on camera. There is even an outlet, so if you are buying electronics, you can plug it in and make sure it works. We encourage students to use this.”
Drexel Police is spreading the word about the importance of being aware of and staying safe against scams to help combat the threat on campus. Should Drexel community members receive a suspicious phone call or email, they should report it to Drexel Police for investigation.
“Please tell us,” McClay said. “Don’t think that your situation is not important. We need to know so we can identify a pattern.”
Drexel Police can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (215) 895-2222.