As the COVID-19 virus continues to plague the country the search is on for equipment to stop its spread.
From N95 masks to approved COVID-19 testing kits, the market to battle the pandemic is hot but FBI Special Agent Andrew Sekela said the opportunity to get duped by it is also heating up.
“The scammers never waste any opportunity to develop new ways of ripping people off,” he told us recently.
But we found, deciphering the legit from the questionable at a time of fear and chaos can get complicated.
Take, for example, a Chinese biotech company a middleman tipped us off to recently. An email forwarded to us claimed there were “15 million” rapid COVID-19 testing kits available from the company.
A YouTube video touts results in just 10 minutes, and accompanying paperwork included a clinical study and copies of certificates, meant to prove the kits passed a European health and safety check.
But a closer look at the certificate shows the symbols of approvals are all blurry, and the certificate looks nothing like typical certificates of approval.
When we contacted the company with questions, an unidentified person sent us a boilerplate email not answering our questions but instead informing us, “our productivity has reached the maximum limit due to large overseas orders.”
It’s a global problem even Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has fallen victim to in its quest to purchase millions of N95 masks. Director, Jared Moskowitz, has aired his frustrations on-air and Twitter about dealing with phantom companies on a mission for money.
“We’re going to warehouses that are empty, being told they’re on planes that don’t exist actually on any flight patterns. I’ve signed, probably, half-a-billion dollars’ worth of PO’s (purchase orders) and I feel like all I’ve purchased is air because these things just don’t exist,” Moskowitz went on to say, “there’s something really wrong in the market, there’s something that’s broken.”
The FBI warns governments are especially vulnerable to large scale schemes.
“In most cases, they prefer governments because governments have deeper pockets than individuals or companies do,” said Sekela.
We’ve continued to reach out to the Chinese biotech company. To date, their only response remains the one email indicating they have maxed out orders but have received both Europe’s nod of approval and that of the FDA — which, according to the FDA, is simply not true.
Experts advise all to do our homework, use the internet to start digging for information and if a company claims it has earned certain approvals, check with the agency granting that approval to ensure those claims are true.
Also, trust your gut. If something doesn’t look or sound right, don’t ever send money without doing a thorough check on the company.
The FBI has also provided the following link for more information on COVID-19 information: https://www.fbi.gov/coronavirus.