European police foil 15-million-euro face mask scam

European police foil 15-million-euro face mask scam

European police have thwarted an attempt to scam Germany out of millions of euros. The scammers charged German health authorities almost 15 million euros for face masks that were never delivered. The money has since been recovered.

The great face mask scam

Last week it was revealed that North Rhine-Westphalia had fallen victim to a multi-million-euro fraud scheme while trying to purchase protective face masks. The state paid almost 15 million euros to two distribution companies based in Hamburg and Zurich, who were to purchase the masks from a supplier supposedly based in Spain.

The delivery never arrived and, after the managing director of both companies filed a complaint, the companies were referred to a “trusted” dealer in Ireland. According to Europol, the Irish dealer put them in touch with a different supplier based in the Netherlands.

The distribution companies paid the Irish dealer 1,5 million euros for the delivery of 1,5 million masks. Just before the delivery, the Dutch supplier demanded another 800.000 euros to “secure the merchandise.” 52 lorries and a police escort were prepared to transport the masks from the Netherlands to Germany. However, the masks never arrived.

Recovering the money

Police discovered that the Dutch supplier did exist, but their website had been cloned by the fraudsters. “There was no official record of the order,” Europol explained. Law enforcement agencies, including Europol and Interpol, were then faced with tracking down the stolen funds.

Thanks to a tip-off from Interpol, the Irish Economic Crimes Bureau tracked and froze 1,5 million euros in an Irish bank and identified an Irish company involved in the scheme. The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD) tracked down the other 800.000 euros, 500.000 of which had already been transferred to a British bank account, with the money destined for Nigeria.

The money was able to be recalled by the British bank, which was then returned to the Netherlands and frozen by authorities. The remaining 12,3 million euros, which was initially paid to the distribution companies by the German authorities, have already been returned to North Rhine-Westphalia.

Dutch police have arrested at least two suspects and it is reported that an Irish man is being questioned by police over the scam.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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