Hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies and semi-wholesalers of medical equipment are currently the main targets of criminals specializing in large financial scams who have already garnered several million euros by taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis.

Simple as a phone call, or almost. It is without weapon or violence that specialized scammers manage to extract colossal sums from companies in the medical world, including hospitals and pharmacies, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Their perfectly honed technique is based on their strength of conviction and the information on which they rely. On the phone, professional scammers full of confidence pose as a usual supplier of their target.

"They tell them 'I just had a stock of masks, I know you need them, hurry up, my stock melts before my eyes ... I send you an invoice directly, you will find my bank details on it, make me a transfer '... So they put pressure on their interlocutors and these pharmacies or hospitals are required to pay money but never see the goods ", explains to Europe 1 the divisional commissioner Anne-Sophie Coulbois, chief of the Central Office for the Suppression of Serious Financial Crime (OCRGDF) at the central directorate of the judicial police.

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Multi-million euro scam

The most striking example is that of a Rouen wholesaler working for pharmacies. In early March, he placed an order for € 6.6 million for gels and masks with a company that ultimately turned out to be a ghost, as Le Parisien had revealed. "The scammers posed as known suppliers to the company by submitting a complete file," the company told AFP. The order never reached him, and the money finally landed in Singapore, where it could have been blocked by the authorities following the filing of a complaint against X in France.

According to information gathered by Europe 1, a hospital recently failed to place an identical order for an amount of 6 million euros. The transaction was stopped just in time. In the Strasbourg region, an intermediary was robbed of 70,000 euros on an order for masks and gel using the same process. In the Yvelines, a company supplying pharmacies made a first payment of 15,000 euros to a supplier in India. The second installment was blocked in time. The investigation is ongoing.

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False transfer orders

This type of very large-scale scam is well known to investigators, who describe them as "false transfer orders (FOVI)", also called a "scam to the president" of a company. These scams appeared around 2010 and then spread with the development of the internet.

Gilbert Chikli, recently sentenced to 11 years in prison for extracting millions of euros by posing as Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, is considered by French justice as one of the pioneers of this scam. In 2015, he was sentenced, while he was fleeing to Israel, to seven years in prison for having defrauded several large companies.

Dozens of scams in the past two weeks

For the past two weeks, scammers have been taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. "We are on the same teams, the same operating methods, the same techniques to avoid the police, which we have known for ten years", according to Anne-Sophie Coulbois.

"Several dozen scams have been reported in the past 15 days, not counting companies that have not yet noticed them while waiting for an order that will not come, or who do not want to file a complaint," added a police source to the AFP. Very often, the "true-false supplier" calls with a French number while he is abroad, and invokes confinement and telework to explain that the number is different from that usually used by the supplier.


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Call back on usual numbers

To guard against this type of scam, the owner of the OCRGDF recommends to make sure that it is indeed the usual supplier by calling him back with the usual contact details: "it's essential", insists Anne-Sophie Coulbois on Europe 1.

According to her, "you should not use the contact details given by the scammer even if it can be complicated at the moment with working from home. Nor should you rush, even if the notion of urgency is well there, do not hesitate to speak about it to a colleague to discuss with him about the fraudulent nature or not of the order ". Finally, the head of the OCRGDF also encourages the victims to file a complaint and to "contact (their) bank to try to repatriate the funds".