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Trading Standards warn of scam sites selling personal protective equipment (PPE)

Image show a facemask, one of the products being 'sold' on a scam website
Published: Tuesday, 31st March 2020

Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards team are urging crowd-funders, consumers and businesses to beware of scam sites selling hard-to-find PPE.

The warning comes amid an international shortage of protective equipment such as face masks, gloves and sanitizer.

Trading Standards officers have uncovered a scam website exploiting a legitimate Birmingham company, run by a Midland doctor – A & G Medical Ltd, which never had its own website – by stealing its identity to set up website using a US domain server./p>

Information on the website claims the firm was founded in 2010 to manufacture and distribute ‘high quality disposable healthcare products’ – but the domain name was first registered on 25 February 2020.

Trading Standards have contacted the US-based web hosting service and the mobile phone network which owns the mobile numbers cited as contacts.

With well-wishers donating thousands of pounds to crowd-funding appeals and frontline workers struggling to procure such essential kit, Trading Standards is urging businesses and the public not to be lured into such scams.

Tony Quigley, Head of Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council, said: “Officers made a number of enquiries, trying covertly to contact the supplier as potentially-interested customers.

“When they made contact, the person who answered purported to be able to supply large quantities of face masks and sanitizer immediately – wanting a deposit of half paid up front. Further enquiries revealed the money was being transferred abroad using a money transfer account.

“The doctor, whose legitimate company’s name was stolen to set up the website, was utterly shocked – his company is genuine, and he had no knowledge of this scam operation.

“There is an overwhelming demand for PPE right now, and we wanted to put people on alert of unscrupulously opportunistic scams like this which look convincing – but it is a scam.”

Officers were first alerted to this by a partner agency, which had found a false test certificate in relation to some of the products advertised on the site. Further investigation found that the business address on the website is currently a building site.

There are some key warning signs which the public should be aware of, particularly with new scams linked to Covid-19 emerging very quickly, so be vigilant – and if in doubt, don’t use the site:

  • Bad spelling or fuzzy images
  • ‘Cut and pasted’ text – which may relate to another business or site
  • No traceable landline phone number
  • Use of platforms such as WhatsApp, where messaging / calls cannot be traced

Cyber-crime such as scam websites and texts can be reported to Trading Standards – tradingstandards@birmingham.gov.uk