Fraudsters target medical suppliers as country battles Covid-19.
By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
From fake cures for coronavirus to phishing scams, fraudsters have been taking advantage of people’s fears around the pandemic. Now, South African medical manufacturers and suppliers are also in their sights.
Fraudsters are targeting established companies that normally respond to legitimate South African National Department of Health tenders for medical devices, says Reiner Gabler, MD of Cape Town-based Gabler Medical.
Gabler Medical is a specialist medical device manufacturing firm founded in Cape Town over 50 years ago by Alfred Josef Gabler, a German instrument maker. Several of its customers have been tricked into believing that they are ordering products from Gabler Medical, and have deposited funds, when this is in fact a sophisticated scam.
The fraudsters operate by emailing a fraudulent invitation to tender, purporting to be from the Department of Health. Gabler Medical is aware of an initial fake bid document for the supply of microscopes, and a second document for the supply of thermometers.
The fraudulent multi-page request to tender document is extremely convincing. It resembles official Department of Health stationery with a watermark, and a stamp stating that the document has been approved by supply chain management. It states that no briefing session will be held, but all queries can be mailed or phoned through. A contact name, email address and Pretoria phone number are supplied.
When recipients follow up, the fraudster names Gabler Medical as a company that supplies the devices and provides a fake Gabler website with a phone number, company VAT number, address information, and contact numbers – all of which are incorrect. The original fake website (which was closed down by Gabler Medical) was www.gablermedicals.com. Now the fraudsters have re-appeared as www.gablersmedical.com, while the correct site is www.gablermedical.com.
“We were alerted to the scam by an established customer who was sent a quote by the fraudsters, and who realised it was not in fact a Gabler Medical document,” said Gabler.
“In the first tender for microscopes, the fraudsters took numerous companies who thought they were dealing with us, for R170,000 each. We estimate they stole well over a million rand before we were able to shut them down.”
Police were initially reluctant to log the case as there was no loss to Gabler Medical itself.
Gabler Medical has taken numerous steps to attempt to stop the scammers. When they were alerted that a company had paid R169000 into a fraudulent bank account, the account was frozen. The original telephone numbers and website domain were suspended or closed, while Gabler staff have alerted customers to the fraud and encouraged them to lay charges. After the first fraudulent website was closed down, the fraudsters re-appeared with the second lookalike site.
“I am aware of people who have been scammed and also some that contacted us and thereby avoided being scammed. I spoke to a few people myself and encouraged them to lay a fraud charge, but it seems our juristic system is not geared up adequately for dealing efficiently and effectively with such fraudulent activities, which makes it open season for fraudsters,” said Gabler.
“if you are registered on the supplier databases and receive a request to tender or quote that seems to be from a government department, contact the department to confirm that the request is legitimate. Do not use the contact details on the tender document, which might be fraudulent.”