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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a warning that cybercriminals are attempting to steal money from state agencies and healthcare industry buyers that are trying to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies.
Healthcare industry buyers have been told to be on high alert following a rise in the number of scams related to the procurement of PPE and essential medical equipment such as ventilators, which are in short supply due to increased demand.
The FBI has received reports of several cases of advance fee scams, where government agencies and healthcare industry buyers have wired funds to brokers and sellers of PPE and medical equipment, only to discover the suppliers were fake.
There have also been several reported cases of business email compromise (BEC) scams related to PPE and medical equipment procurement. In these scams, brokers and vendors of goods and services are impersonated. The scammers use email addresses that are nearly identical to the legitimate broker or seller and request wire transfer payments for the goods and services. The scams are often only detected after the money has been transferred and withdrawn from the accounts.
The FBI cites one case where an individual was duped by a scammer into wire transferring funds to an entity that claimed to have an existing business relationship with the purchasing agency. When the potential scam was uncovered, the funds had already been transferred beyond the reach of U.S law enforcement and could not be recovered.
Prepayment for goods such as PPE and ventilators is commonplace, but it increases risk of being defrauded and, in many cases, prepayment for goods eliminates potential recourse.
Healthcare equipment buyers should be wary of the following signs of a potential scam:
- Contact is initiated by a broker or seller of medical equipment or PPE, often through a channel that makes verification of the legitimacy of the seller or broker difficult. I.e. initial contact comes from a personal email address or the offer is received over the phone.
- The origin of the equipment is not clearly explained, including how the broker or vendor has secured a supply given the current high level of demand.
- It is not possible to verify with the manufacturer of the goods that the person offering them for sale is a legitimate vendor or distributor of the product, or it is not possible to verify a legitimate supply chain.
- Any unexplained urgency for payment or last-minute changes to previously used payment methods.
Any contact made by a vendor or broker who claims to have a business relationship with an existing supplier should be verified through previously established communication channels to verify the legitimacy of the relationship.
If contact is made by a known or trusted vendor, carefully check the contact information and email address to make sure it is legitimate. Look out for transposed letters and misspellings in email addresses.
Where possible, arrange for an independent third party to verify that the items being offered for sale are physically present, and of the correct make, model, and type and take delivery immediately when payment is made. If not possible, ensure payment is made through a domestic escrow account which will only release funds when the goods are received and verified to be correct.