FBI: Scammers in Disguise Target Health Care Providers with Threats and Phony Investigations

Steptoe & Johnson PLLC

On October 13, 2020, the FBI’s Office of Private Sector issued a Liaison Information Report [“LIR”] to warn medical providers of a nationwide fraud scheme targeting them. The LIR summarized multiple instances in which criminals contacted medical providers by phone, email, and mail, claiming to be from either a state’s Board of Medicine, the U.S. Department of Justice, and/or the Drug Enforcement Administration [“DEA”].

At times, the criminals advised a provider that his or her medical license had been suspended, and then demanded to be wired payment immediately to avoid legal action. On other occasions, criminals claimed that the provider was under federal investigation for “illegal drug trafficking and money laundering” or “opioid distribution,” and that immediate payment was required to prevent professional license suspension. The criminals also demanded the payment of thousands of dollars in “bond,” purportedly to ensure that the provider would cooperate with “the authorities” and not leave the area.  

Criminals adopted various suspicious techniques to carry out the scheme. First, they utilized multiple means of communicating with the providers, contacting them repeatedly, expressing that the “investigation” needed to be resolved urgently. Second, they would dissuade the provider from independently verifying their identity or position within the “investigating agency.”  They also would either suggest that the provider not disclose the “investigation” to any third party or outright prohibit such a disclosure. Third, the criminals “spoofed” phone numbers and email addresses and offered fake names and badge numbers to try to make it appear that they were calling from and on behalf of legitimate governmental agencies. Additionally, they provided details about the medical providers, such as full names, professional licensing numbers, and National Provider Identifier [“NPI”] numbers, in order to try to lend an air of legitimacy. These types of criminals are known to target providers whose first language is not English and those who may not be United States citizens, threatening deportation if the provider does not pay to end the “investigation.”

Best practices to avoid these types of scams include:

  • Use official websites and official phone numbers to independently verify the authenticity of communications from alleged law enforcement or medical board officials.
  • Independently contact those boards or law enforcement agencies to confirm the identity of the person(s) contacting the provider.
  • Do not provide personal identifying information (Social Security Number, date of birth, or financial information) in response to suspicious emails, phone calls, or letters and do not provide professional information (medical license number, NPI number, or DEA license number). 
  • Be wary of any request for money or other forms of payment regarding supposed criminal investigations by alleged law enforcement agencies or regulatory entities.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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