CHARLESTON – West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw and U.S. Representative Nick Rahall have issued a warning to West Virginia consumers to be on the lookout for fraudulent telemarketing calls from criminals impersonating United States Food and Drug Administration special agents and other law enforcement personnel as part of a continued international extortion scam.
Rahall recently received a constituent complaint that residents in southern West Virginia were receiving telephone calls from the con artists and contacted McGraw to investigate.
"Criminals often attempt to separate consumers from their hard-earned money using commercial wire transfer services," McGraw said. "This is yet another variation in the method crooks are using to convince consumers to use Western Union or Money Gram to wire transfer funds from fraudulent purposes."
Rahall said because of the convenience of Internet and phone purchases, consumers are now easier prey for shakedown artists.
"We all have to do our part to inform family, friends and neighbors to avoid this scam so officials, like Attorney General McGraw, can crack down on the thugs taking advantage of innocent West Virginia families," Rahall said. "Scams like this one hurt everyone, but they are especially brutal attacks on seniors and others who are homebound, sick, or just trying to stretch budget dollars to afford medicines they need."
The criminals call the victims, who in most cases previously purchased drugs over the Internet or telephone, and identify themselves as FDA special agents or other law enforcement officials, according to FDA officials.
The criminals then inform the victims that purchasing drugs over the Internet or by telephone is illegal and that law enforcement actions will be pursued unless a fine ranging from $100 to $250,000 is paid.
In addition to the shakedown for fines, victims often have fraudulent transactions placed against their credit cards.
The criminals always request the money to be wired to a destination usually in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica or Canada. If victims refuse to send money, the caller will threaten to search their property which would likely result in an arrest.
The FDA has reported this scam for the last several years and arrests have been made and prosecutions are pending. The FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations, with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, with the support of various U.S. Attorneys, are pursuing multiple national and international criminal investigations.
However, based on the complaint received by the Congressman, the scam is happening now in West Virginia.
The extortionists use customer lists complete with extensive personal information provided through previous purchase transactions. These include names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, purchase histories and credit card account numbers.
Victims of the scam are encouraged to file a consumer complaint with the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-800-368-8808 or by visiting www.wvago.gov. Complaints that are received will be forwarded to the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations.