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Ways for Small Businesses to Avoid Personal-Protective-Equipment Advance-Fee Scams

Reading time: 2 Minutes

May 7th, 2020

As the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95, KN95 and surgical masks, rises amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, criminals have begun taking advantage of shortages by launching advance fee schemes against government agencies, healthcare organizations, businesses and nonprofits alike.

In these types of scams, fraudsters contact companies claiming to have medical supplies for sale. In response, organizations often wire funds before receiving the desperately needed equipment—only for scammers to disappear with the money. In some instances, businesses may be approached by well-meaning brokers who have been deceived by scammers falsely claiming to have access to PPE.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation encourages business owners and individuals looking to purchase medical equipment to be vigilant of possible scams. When considering a purchase of supplies from any brokers or vendors, domestic or international, look for appropriate identifying information that can be researched and verified, including business addresses, phone numbers, and websites; as well as business tax ID numbers and transaction financial data, such as bank accounts and routing numbers.

Common PPE scam warning signs include:

  • the inability to verify whether the individual or agency is a legitimate vendor or distributor for the product manufacturer
  • sellers or brokers reaching out without having an existing relationship with your business
  • sellers initiating contact through difficult-to-verify channels, such as by phone or personal email
  • sellers being unable to explain the origin of the items for sale or items' availability given current high demand
  • an unexplained urgency to receive funds
  • last-minute changes in previously-confirmed wiring instructions

Scammers may also claim to represent entities with a previous existing relationship to buyers. It's prudent to verify such claims through a known contact and not through information provided by phone or emails in question.

To protect your agency or organization, the FBI also recommends that buyers confirm that the email address used to send messages matches the appropriate sender (and is not misspelled); verify with the product manufacturer that the seller is a legitimate vendor or distributor for the offered items; and have a trusted independent third party verify the promised quality, make and model of items for sale, if possible.

Be cautious of any last minute changes in recipient account information or wiring instructions, and avoid re-routing payments until such changes can be independently verified as being from an authorized party. Take delivery of purchased items immediately upon payment, or direct payments to a domestic escrow account that is only released to the seller after you receive the specified items.

To learn more about COVID-related scams and the federal resources available to assist businesses, visit fbi.gov/coronavirus. If you believe your organization or company has been the victim of a fraudulent scheme related to COVID-19, the FBI asks you to immediately file a report with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

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