The International Criminal Police Organisation has uncovered a “sophisticated fraud scheme” involving The Netherlands, Germany and Ireland using facemasks.
The scheme account, whose account was domiciled in Nigeria, used compromised emails, advance-payments fraud and money laundering, Financial Street gathered.
Interpol reported via its website that the crime “started with an email address and website which appeared to be linked to a legitimate company in Spain selling face masks.” But unknown to the buyers contracted by the German health authorities, the site was fake, as the legitimate email addresses had been compromised.
While orders had been placed and the company did not make supplies, a chain of referrals began with ‘trusted’ middlemen in Ireland and The Netherlands. With an agreement reached for an initial supply of 1.5m face masks of the 10m order, and an initial upfront payment of 1.5m euros, delivery fell through.
The international police reported, “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.
“Just before the delivery, the buyers were informed that the funds had not been received and that an emergency transfer of 880,000 euros straight to the Dutch supplier was required to secure the merchandise.
“The buyers sent the wire transfer and the masks never arrived. It turns out the Dutch company existed, but their website had also been cloned. There was no official record of the order.”
Then series of investigations began after Interpol’s Financial Crimes Unit was contacted. The money trail was followed.
Concerted efforts from banks, financial intelligence units and judicial authorities, as well as support from Europol and EUROJUST were enlisted.
With the Irish company found out, and its account traced, the Interpol secured Ireland’s Garda National Economic Crime Bureau’s permission to freeze the initial deposit of 1.5m deposit.
“The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service quickly tracked down the 880,000 euros, which had been transferred from the German company. Nearly, 500,000 euros of those funds had already been sent to the United Kingdom, all of which was destined for an account in Nigeria.”
According to the Secretary General of Interpol, Jurgen Stock, arrests have been made, but “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.”
Reacting to the discovery, Executive Director, Police Services at Interpol, Steven Kavanagh,said,“There are vultures, the predators out there who want to take advantage at this time of crisis.”
Adding that the criminals, in a bid to evade due diligence, mounted pressure on their preys, he warned people to be vigilant and sceptical when they enter large-scale deals.