Caller Poses as FDA Official and Tries to Bilk Local Woman

January 14, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. – An elderly Richmond-area woman recently received a call from a man identifying himself as an agent for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The caller informed her that drugs she had purchased online were, in fact, illegal.  She could avoid arrest, he said, by paying a fine.


“This caller was very intimidating.  He attempted to scare the woman into believing that she would be arrested if she did not pay a fine immediately,” said Tom Gallagher, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in Central Virginia.  “Fortunately, the woman was skeptical and alerted authorities.”


The FDA warned consumers of this scam late last month in a nationwide news release.   The con artists have also been known to pose as agents for the FBI, the Secret Service and the Customs Service.


“It didn’t take long for this to surface in Richmond,” Gallagher said.


Thomas Gasparoli, a spokesman for the FDA, reported that he is aware of at least 100 victims from throughout the U.S.  “The FDA believes there are many more victims who never say anything,” he said.


The so-called fines range anywhere from $100 to $250,000.  Consumers are usually instructed to send the money by wire transfer, usually to a location in the Dominican Republic.  Those who fail to do so face additional threats, including property searches, deportation and jail. 


Impersonating an FDA official is a federal crime.   The FDA said no official from that agency will every contact a consumer by phone demanding money or any other form of payment.


Targets of this crime should contact the BBB at 804-648-0030 or the FDA at 800-521-5783.


The BBB in Central Virginia serves Richmond and Tri-Cities, as well as 42 surrounding counties, from Fauquier to Mecklenburg and Northumberland to Amherst. The nonprofit organization was established in 1954 to advance responsible, honest and ethical business practices and to promote customer confidence through self-regulation of business. Core services of the BBB include business reliability reports, dispute resolution, truth-in advertising, consumer and business education and charity review.