Investigators foil multimillion-euro face mask fraud

Thieves have attempted to steal millions of euros from German health authorities as they tried to buy face masks amid the global pandemic.
Investigators foil multimillion-euro face mask fraud
Details of the scam came as the FBI also warned government and healthcare industry buyers of a rise in Covid-19-related fraud

Thieves have attempted to steal millions of euros from German health authorities as they tried to buy face masks amid the global pandemic.

Europol said that in mid-March healthcare bodies in Germany, facing global shortages, went outside normal channels and contacted two companies in Zurich and Hamburg to try to source masks.

The buyers contacted a website in Spain, later revealed to be fake, that claimed to have 10 million masks available.

The deal fell through at the last minute, and the Spanish company referred them to a dealer in Ireland, who in turn put them with a supplier in the Netherlands.

An agreement for an initial delivery of 1.5 million masks was made, in exchange for an up-front payment of 1.5 million euro (£1.3 million).

The money was transferred and delivery, involving 52 lorries and a police escort from the Netherlands to Germany, was arranged.

But the day before the delivery date, the supplier claimed that the money had not come through, and asked for an emergency transfer of 880,000 euro (£750,000) to the Dutch company.

This too was paid – but the masks never arrived. It later transpired that the Dutch company did exist, but its website had been cloned.

Europol and Interpol used their financial intelligence network to stop the payments.

In Ireland, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau froze the 1.5 million euro that had been paid to the Irish dealer.

The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service tracked down the 880 000 euro – more than half of which had already been moved to an account in the UK, ready to be transferred to Nigeria.

So far, two arrests have been made in the Netherlands.

Details of the scam came as the FBI also warned government and healthcare industry buyers of a rise in Covid-19-related fraud, including suppliers claiming to sell protective equipment and ventilators.

It said it is aware of “several incidents” where buyers have transferred payments for equipment in advance, only later realising that they had been defrauded.

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