DEA scam artists target veterinarians by phone
You’ve probably received one of those scam IRS phishing calls, the ones where someone pretending to be with the IRS tells you you’re in trouble because you owe back taxes and then demands payment over the phone.
Be prepared—you may be getting one from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Or rather, from someone pretending to be with the DEA.
Con artists posing as a DEA Special Agents or DEA Diversion Investigators are trying to extort money from DEA registrants—anyone who must be registered with the DEA to prescribe controlled substances, such as doctors, pharmacists, and, of course, veterinarians—over the phone.
Jack Teitelman, retired DEA supervisory agent and current chief executive officer of DEA compliance experts Titan Group, told NEWStat how the scam works.
There are several variations.
“[The scammers] target registrants who recently purchased controlled substances online or by telephone,” Teitelman says. “The next thing you know they’re getting a phone call saying, ‘Hey, you tried to buy drugs online, and that’s a fine. And if you want to continue doing business as a DEA registrant, you have to pay us that fine right now.’”
Some DEA registrants who purchased controlled substances using a credit card have also reported fraudulent use of their credit cards. Another scheme involves DEA impersonators contacting doctors and pharmacists and stating that they’re the subject of an investigation, then demanding money to clear up the matter.
In most cases, Teitelman says, the scammers will instruct the registrant to pay the fine via wire transfer to a designated location (usually overseas). If the registrant refuses, the scammers threaten to arrest them or search their facility.
Teitelman says the scammers don’t necessarily even know who you are—they’re often cold-calling on a bet. And they’re not just calling veterinarians. “It’s everyone who’s got a DEA registration,” Teitelman says. “It’s every doctor out there. But most doctors write prescriptions and their patients go to the pharmacy. Veterinarians are more at risk because they order directly from suppliers.”
And sometimes the scammers know exactly who you are.
The Washington Post recently obtained a large portion of the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System—known as ARCOS—database that tracked the path of every opioid pain pill, from manufacturer to pharmacy, in the United States between 2006 and 2012. The DEA uses the data for internal review and to follow up on investigations of suspicious orders being placed and delivered across the US. The Post obtained the information through a court order and made portions of it public.
“Deep in all this data is every order of hydrocodone and oxycodone that every veterinarian ordered across the country from 2006–2012,” Teitelman says. If you ordered those drugs during those years, he adds, “Your name is in there, your address is in there, your DEA registration number is in there.”
If scammers get hold of that information, Teitelman says, they can target your hospital specifically. They can call and say, “Are you still at this address and still in business as a DVM? You are? Well, I’m with the DEA. Our records show that on this date you ordered these drugs. We’ve noticed some irregularities in the order and you’ll have to pay an immediate fine or we’re going to shut your registration down.”
Teitelman says a lot of people fall for it because it’s human nature to wonder if the caller is right. “Everyone’s thinking, ‘man, am I guilty? I run a busy hospital; I don’t remember. Did one of my employees do that? Was it the practice manager? The lead inventory clerk?’” Sometimes people panic and pay the fine. “When you get a call and someone is asking for specific information about something that’s your life blood, some people are going to think, ‘Okay, I guess that’s what I have to do.’”
“It’s scare tactics,” Teitelman says. “They prey on people’s fears.”
So if you do get the call, don’t be fooled.
Teitelman says, “No real DEA agent is going to start their original interaction with you with a phone call. If something comes up that they’re going to have to investigate—an irregularity in your ordering patterns, for example—they’re going to show up at your office, show you ID, and explain why they’re there.
“That’s how you’re going to start your relationship with a DEA agent. It’s going to be an in-person visit,” Teitelman says. “It’s not going to start with a phone call.”
If you do get the scam call, Teitelman says, there’s an easy way to handle it: “Say, ‘That’s great, but I’m not going to handle this over the phone. How about you stop by the office tomorrow, and I’ll be glad to talk to you in person.’”
Teitelman says that’s all it takes. “You’ll never hear from them again.”
If you are contacted by a person purporting to be a DEA special agent, DEA Diversion Investigator, or other law enforcement official seeking money, refuse the demand and immediately report the threat online to the DEA.
If you feel that you may have been the victim of a DEA impersonator extortion scam or if you have questions, contact TITAN Group for additional assistance: (973) 433-3400.