As the war against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) rages across the globe, the International Police (INTERPOL) said it has smashed a coordinated multinational face masks supply fraud worth €1.5 million (N591 million) linked to Nigeria.
In a statement on its website on Tuesday, the organisation said the scheme involved the use of compromised emails, advance payment fraud, and money laundering.
The 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 originally claimed to have 10 million masks but could not deliver them. It later referred the buyer to a dealer in Ireland. The Irish dealer also promised to put the buyer in touch with a different supplier 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 €1.5 million. 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,” INTERPOL explained.
But just before the order was to be delivered, the buyers were told that the funds had not been received, the alleged fraudster then asked that an emergency transfer of €880,000 be made to the suppliers in the Netherlands to secure the merchandise.
The fund was sent but the buyers soon realised that they had been duped and immediately contacted their bank in Germany, which in turn contacted INTERPOL’s financial crimes unit. A frantic chase involving multiple agencies in Europe to retrieve the money began.
“Banks, financial intelligence units and judicial authorities, as well as partner organisations Europol and EUROJUST, joined INTERPOL in the chase.
“INTERPOL contacted its National Central Bureau in Dublin as well as the Irish bank. Prompt intervention by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau allowed them to freeze the €1.5 million in the account and identify the Irish company involved.
“The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service quickly tracked down the €880,000 which had been transferred from the German company. Nearly €500,000 of those funds had already been sent to the United Kingdom, all of which was destined for an account in Nigeria.”
Due to an alert raised by investigators, the UK bank successfully recalled the full amount and the funds have been repatriated to the Netherlands to remain frozen.
“They adapted their sales pitches to take advantage of strained supply chains and generate huge profits. I 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 of our partners,” added the INTERPOL chief.
It said two persons have already been arrested and more arrests were likely, as investigations continue across Europe.