According to the international police organization, the fraud cuts across Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.
It said the suspects used a compromised email address linked to a legitimate company in Spain selling face masks and a fake website.
The company initially claimed to have 10 million masks, only for the delivery to fall through. As consolation, they then referred the buyers to a ‘trusted’ dealer in Ireland. The Irish middleman promised to put them in touch with a different supplier, this time in the Netherlands.
Claiming to have a strong commercial relationship with the company, the man provided assurances that the alleged Dutch company would be able to supply the 10 million face masks.
An agreement for an initial delivery of 1.5 million masks was made, in exchange for an up-front payment of EUR 1.5 million.
Interpol reported that the buyers initiated a bank transfer to Ireland and prepared for delivery which was supposed to involve 52 Lorries and police escort for the transport to the warehouse in the Netherlands to Germany.
INTERPOL, in a statement on its website, recalled that in mid-March, as countries went into lockdown due to COVID-19, Germany contracted two sales companies in Zurich and Hamburg to procure EUR 15 million worth of face masks.
A company initially claimed to have 10 million masks, failed to deliver, then referred the buyers to a ‘trusted’ dealer in Ireland.
A transfer of the money was supposed to be done to secure the merchandise before the delivery date but the buyers were informed that the funds had not been received yet.
Upon realizing they had been duped, the buyers immediately contacted their bank in Germany which got reach of Interpol’s financial Crimes Unit. This set off a race to intercept the funds and embark on a money trail.
The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service quickly tracked down the money which had been transferred from the German company. Nearly EUR 500,000 of those funds had already been sent to the United Kingdom, all of which was destined for an account in Nigeria,”
Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General, noted that those arrested had no connections to the medical equipment industry.
“They were simply experienced fraudsters who saw an opportunity with the outbreak of COVID-19. They adapted their sales pitches to take advantage of strained supply chains and generate huge profits.”
He was quoted saying that he can only salute the quick work of both the private and public authorities involved. INTERPOL will continue its work on the case – and the many others like it – in close cooperation with all its partners.
A lot of people are taking advantage of the pandemic and the fact that countries are desperate, to carry out scams especially on promises of masks, protective gear or gloves for people and especially medical staff who have to deal with coronavirus patients in their line of duty.
Coronavirus cases have now hit a new high with Germany having more than 130,000 cases.