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Imposter scams targeting nurses during COVID-19

A new low: Imposter scams targeting nurses during COVID-19

For the past 18 month, nurses have been on the front lines of helping ease the suffering of millions of Americans infected by COVID-19. Tragic stories of nurses holding cell phones and iPads up so that family members can say goodbye to dying loved ones have been among the most heart-wrenching anecdotes to come out of the pandemic. While most Americans have celebrated the heroism of these frontline healthcare workers, scammer have seen something else: a vulnerable target.

A string of reports from state attorneys general and other enforcement agencies detail how impersonation scams have sought to prey on nurses and other health care practitioners. The set-up in these scams tend to be similar: A nurse is contacted via email, phone, postal mail, or text message by someone claiming to be with the nurse’s state Board of Medicine. The scammer informs the victims that their medical licenses have been suspended and demands immediate payment to prevent this from happening.

In other cases, the scammer claims to be an FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration agent and claims that the victim is under investigation for “money laundering,” “opioid distribution,” “drug trafficking,” or another crime. The impersonator then demands immediate payment as a “bond” pending further investigation.

For nurses and other healthcare professionals, their license and reputation in the medical community is critical to allowing them to do their jobs. And at a time when healthcare workers are already facing immense stress dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers’ threats can be especially difficult to ignore. Scammers are also known to advise victims not to inform anyone else of the “investigation,” so as to avoid additional unpleasant consequences.

Law Enforcement is urging all nurses and healthcare workers to be aware of this scam and use the following tips to avoid falling victim:

  • If you are concerned about the status of your medical license, contact your state’s Board of Nursing or other professional licensure agency independently to verify your status;
  • Scammers are experts at making their communications appear to be credible, coming from a regulatory agency, law enforcement, state licensing board, or other official source. Caller ID information and email addresses are often “spoofed” to appear to be from such agencies. Some scammers have even used official watermarks on postal mail to make their claims look more convincing.
  • Do not provide personal information (Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) or professional information (medical license number, DEA license number, etc.) in response to a phone call, email, or other unsolicited communication;
  • If you receive a suspicious solicitation or other communication, make your healthcare colleagues aware. Scammers often target multiple victims in the same area or workplace.
  • Any request for urgent payment, by someone claiming to be a law enforcement or regulatory agency is almost certainly a scam. Be especially wary of requests for payment via wire transfer, bank-to-bank transfer, P2P payment apps, or gift cards.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has become a victim of this scam or any other fraud, report it at once.