This Man Thought He Bought His Country A Vast Supply Of Coronavirus Masks. It Was A Scam.

PPE HERO

In February, the Mongolian government issued a plea to the country’s private sector: Help us find masks. Neighboring China had provided an early front-row seat to how the spread of the coronavirus could leave health care workers desperately in need of personal protective equipment.

Zorig Tumensaan, who owns several clinics in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, stirred into action. He and a friend based in Europe found a website, Agro-SzabKft.com, promising the “best quality 3 ply surgical face mask for instant shipment.” They ordered 100,000; on March 4, they sent a bank transfer for 12,000 euros ($13,109).

PPE HERO
PPE HERO

“We have masks coming,” Tumensaan recalled telling the Mongolian Ministry of Health. “When they arrive, we will order 1 million more.”

They never arrived. The site is one of a proliferating number of scams preying on people around the world who are trying to meet the skyrocketing demand for masks and other gear. The scams have snookered people trying to donate to hospitals and people trying to protect their workforce. Tumensaan appears to be the first known victim who was trying to help build a national stockpile.

PPE HERO
PPE HERO

The people running Agro-SzabKft.com used forged certificates as well as an obviously fake “logistics company” that claimed to track the customer’s nonexistent deliveries.

Agro-SzabKft.com did not respond to repeated requests for comment sent through voicemail and email nor answer repeated calls to several phone numbers provided on company “invoices.”

After the outbreak began the Mongolian government was forced to close down its border with China, shutting off a would-be source of masks. Mongolia imports almost 80% of its vital resources from China. There are few face mask producers in Mongolia, so the government called on private donors to help the country’s hospitals stock up on protective equipment, including masks, gowns, and N95 respirators.

“I felt a social duty to help,” Tumensaan told BuzzFeed News. “I phoned and said I will fight to donate the masks.”

If you have a story to share about scams — or anything else related to the coronavirus — we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at richard.holmes@buzzfeed.com via one of our tip line channels.


Tumensaan began emailing a sales representative from Agro-SzabKft.com who identified himself as “Alex Lajos.” Lajos wrote that he had up to 7 million face masks in stock and promised a “very prompt” delivery. “We hope to do long term business with your esteemed company,” he wrote.

Lajos sent copies of certificates claiming to be from the Hungarian “Department of Health” and the International Organization for Standardization. The certificates claimed that the company had “complied with the rules and regulations” and was a certified wholesaler of medical goods. Lajos also sent dozens of pictures of warehouses filled with boxes of 3M face masks and of men unloading boxes of respirators from the back of trucks. He even sent a video of the warehouse, telling Tumensaan that it showed workers there saying his name and the date.

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