The International Criminal Police Organisation said it uncovered a €1.5 million sophisticated fraud scheme involving sales of face masks traced to an account in Nigeria.
A statement by INTERPOL Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, said alleged fraudsters use the global scarcity of medical supplies following the coronavirus pandemic to dupe their victims.
According to INTERPOL, 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 involved 52 lorries and a police escort to transport the masks from a warehouse in the Netherlands to the final destination in Germany
Going further, it reported that just before the delivery date, the buyers were informed that the funds had not been received and that an emergency transfer of EUR 880,000 straight to the Dutch supplier was required to secure the merchandise.
“When the buyers realized they had been duped, they immediately contacted their bank in Germany, which in turn contacted INTERPOL’s Financial Crimes unit, setting off a race to intercept the funds and follow the money trail.
“The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service quickly tracked down the EUR 880,000 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,” INTERPOL added in its report.
Luckily due to an alert raised by investigators, the UK bank successfully recalled the full amount and the funds have been repatriated to the Netherlands where it remained frozen.