“He was starting to get under my hide,” says 65-year-old Pauline from Nampa, of the caller claiming to be a DEA agent:
Thomas J. Gormam, DEA investigator, out of Detroit, Mich., Badge No. 101525, soon found out that he’d dialed the wrong number. Not that he wasn’t trying to reach Pauline and her daughter, only that his scam was not going to work here.
Identifying himself as a DEA agent, he told the victims the agency had completed an investigation into people who were buying drugs over the Internet or by telephone. And so Pauline did confess that her daughter had bought diet pills from a pharmacy online, but that was nearly four years ago.
“He said, ‘We just shut down an illegal pharmacy and just shut down the factory. The DEA has two orders of diet pills she’d ordered,’ ” Pauline says.
With her daughter in tears, the fraud continued. It has been almost a year since the Drug Enforcement Administration first warned the public about criminals posing as DEA special agents or other law enforcement personnel as part of an international extortion scheme. The DEA says it has received calls from more than 2,000 victims. The agency estimates there are many more people who fell or almost fell for the scam who they don’t know about.
And while the extortion calls continue, they are eerie in the fact that they knew Pauline had shopped online at this pharmacy.
Pauline said she’d read reports in October of how police and investigators worldwide closed 18,000 online pharmacy sites, in what has become the largest-ever clampdown on criminal gangs selling unauthorized medicines online.
Mr. Gormam had the hook in. He told Pauline that since her daughter had a clean record, he could work something out.
“First thing off the bat — he said there was only one way to save her, either pay the fine rather than go to court or jail,” she says. “As soon as he said ‘a fine,’ I said, ‘I’m really not comfortable talking to you over the phone.’ ”
That’s when the man’s voice changed, and he became threatening. He stated that she’d better be prepared, because within half an hour, he’d be there to arrest her daughter.
“How could an agent for DEA decide that it would only be a penalty?” she asks.
In most cases, the impersonators instruct their victims to pay the “fine” via wire transfer to a designated location, usually overseas, according to a DEA news release. If victims refuse to send money, the impersonators often threaten to arrest them or search their property. Some victims who bought their drugs using a credit card also reported fraudulent use of their credit cards.
Pauline says it never got as far as that because she saw right through the imposter’s pitch.
The agency posted a warning on its website, with a clear understanding: DEA agents will never contact the public by telephone or email to demand money or any other form of payment.
If you buy pharmacy drugs over the Internet, the BBB reminds users to:
Æ Use caution when purchasing any pharmaceuticals by telephone or through the Internet.
Æ Use pharmacies that are registered with the DEA to sell controlled-substance pharmaceuticals by Internet.
Æ Remember: Receiving unsafe, counterfeit, and/or ineffective drugs from outside the U.S. has risks.
Æ Safeguard personal and financial information.
If you get a telephone call from someone claiming to be a DEA special agent or other law enforcement official seeking money, hang up and report the threat: 877-792-2873.
Robb Hicken: 947-2115