Pharmacist and her license were targeted by scammers

The pharmacist’s cell phone rang as she was preparing prescriptions. 

The Caller ID said the call was coming from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. For a pharmacist, getting a call from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy “is like the police calling you,” she said.

The targeted pharmacist has asked that her real name not be used since she is still afraid of her scammers. USA TODAY has confirmed the pharmacist’s identity, her complaint with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and also has reviewed some of the elaborately doctored documents and phone recordings she provided chronicling the scam. USA TODAY has agreed to provide the pharmacist anonymity and will refer to her as “Sally.” USA TODAY also reached out to the FBI, which the pharmacist said she contacted, but the agency’s practice is not to confirm or comment on an investigation.

International scammers are becoming more brazen by sending in-person couriers – also known as mules – to people’s homes in an attempt to trick victims out of their money. 

In an alert this week, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported an uptick from May to December of 2023 in a scam, which instructs victims to liquidate their assets. Unsuspecting people are usually instructed to convert their assets to cash, or gold, silver and other precious metals, as a supposedly safe way to protect their funds. The scam, often targeting senior citizens, has led to losses of over $55 million, the agency said.

How does the courier scam work? 

Various scams often have similarities, with the con men often posing as a person of authority to intimidate someone out of their money. In the latest scheme, scammers pose as tech support or U.S. government officials. They sometimes use a multilayer approach, posing in succession as a tech company, a financial institution and a U.S. government official, the FBI center said.The scammers inform victims that their financial accounts were hacked or at risk of being hacked, and their funds need to be protected. Criminals then instruct victims to liquidate their assets. Sometimes scammers instruct victims to wire funds to a metal dealer who will ship the precious metals to victims’ houses.  

Scammers have victims hand over cash, precious metals

The next step, according to the FBI agency, is the scammers send couriers to retrieve the items at victims’ homes or public locations. Scammers may direct victims to authenticate the transaction with the courier using a passcode, such as the serial number of a U.S. dollar bill. Scammers tell victims they will safeguard the assets in a protected account, but in reality, the victims never hear back from the scammers and the victims lose all their money.

However, the presence of local in-person criminals increases the chance that local and federal authorities can catch someone.

Pierson acknowledges that the couriers may be participating in the crime, but it’s also possible they are unwilling or coerced participants.  

But catching the local in-person criminals can give authorities digital forensic evidence or “digital bread crumbs” on phones and computers “for a better chance of criminal prosecution” and ties to higher-ups in the crime ring, he said

What is new about this scam? 

The escalation and change to in-person tactics for scammers, who usually “hide behind the veil of the internet” or remote countries, is what is different about the latest scheme, said Chris Pierson, CEO of BlackCloak, an Orlando, Florida-based cybersecurity firm,

“This is a total changing of the playbook” because the organized criminal syndicates and/or nation states “are actually burning a resource” as the last stage of the crime, Pierson told USA TODAY. They are no longer at arm’s length, he said. 

“They are burning an individual that could be caught on videotape, the car, their license place, etc.,” he said. 

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