Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Carmel on the Case: FDA Extortion Scam
A warning tonight about an international scam that is targeting South Florida residents. It involves bogus claims about federal agents having a warrant for your arrest. Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- It starts with a phone call.
Dawn Nardiello was at home with her 5-year-old autistic son when she heard this message.
Caller: "Remember that we do have a search warrant for your house and an arrest warrant for yourself."
The caller claimed to be a Food and Drug Administration agent.
Dawn Nardiello, Targeted by Fraudsters: "And I immediately started crying. I couldn't help myself."
When she returned the call, she was told she was in trouble, because she purchased herbal supplements online from out of the country and that she would be extradited to the Dominican Republic.
Dawn Nardiello: "He said they had tested some of the supplements in the batches that I had purchased, and they were full of cocaine, and I was trafficking drugs into the United States."
The caller told her she had to wire $5,000 to make the charges go away and even threatened her son after hearing him cry through the phone.
Dawn Nardiello: "He said, 'I'm sure the DCF agents wouldn't mind picking up your son, and if you have a problem with it, I'll just tell the agents to come and get you and your son now.'"
She eventually realized it was a scam and didn't wire the money.
We called the number Dawn had been given, but no one answered. We heard a recorded message that we had reached a special agent.
Recording: "Thank you for calling the FDA."
We left a message but got no call back.
Christopher Kelly, FDA Spokesperson: "No FDA official would ever participate in such a type of an activity, and impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law."
Authorities believe the scammers are getting names and numbers from credit card transactions. More than 1,000 complaints have been filed nationwide from people who have paid between $2,500 and $25,000 in response to the extortion calls.
One victim from Missouri is out $85,000.
Dawn Nardiello: "I just couldn't believe I fell for it, because I consider myself to be a savvy person."
But even after she found out it was all a bunch of bull, Dawn is still troubled by the threats.
Dawn Nardiello: "I was scared to death. It makes me tremble to think about it now because I couldn't imagine."
Carmel Cafiero, Investigative Reporter: "There is some good news. Eleven Dominican Republic citizens were indicted last week on federal charges of wire fraud in connection with this kind of extortion. But police warn, if you get a call from anyone claiming to be a law enforcement agent who wants you to send money, experts say hang up and report them."
The FDA believes people who shopped online for drugs or supplements like Dawn did are being targeted. If you believe you have been taken by this scam and have actually sent money, the FDA wants to hear from you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
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