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Experts say PPE scams declining but still dangerous

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - In mid-March, hospitals around the U.S. were scrambling to secure critical personal protective equipment like face masks, face shields and isolation gowns. Wearing these items remains the only way to safely care for someone with COVID-19.

Some hospitals ended up buying from scammers trying to give them either defective equipment or no equipment at all.

That was the case for University of Iowa Health Care.

The FBI released a report on November 10, accusing a suburban Chicago businessman of scamming UIHC out of $1.6 million dollars this spring.

Dennis Haggerty was a partner with "At Diagnostics" in the Chicago area, claiming to be a medical equipment provider. Haggerty agreed to provide UIHC with 500,000 3M N95 face masks for $2,495,000. The masks filter out at least 95% of small, airborne particles.

Haggerty also scammed a university hospital in Chicago.

A full, 39-page criminal complaint says UIHC paid Haggerty on March 31 but he quickly changed bank accounts and routing numbers to make it look like the money was never transferred. The masks were supposed to arrive on April 6 and never did.

UIHC contacted federal prosecutors and Haggerty did pay them back a sum of $850,000.

"It became apparent really quickly that there were unfortunately a lot of folks out there trying to make a buck," Brent Willett said.

Willett is the CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association. Before the pandemic, IHCA helped nursing homes secure everyday things they might need. Since March, he's been vetting and connecting PPE vendors.

Willett says has a specific set of teste he runs vendors through before giving them a stamp of approval.

"We're asking for proof of delivery to providers in the state of Iowa. So, we're not willing to be the first," Willett said.

Willett also only recommends companies with production hubs in North America and those with documents to prove they're an established firm.

Willett says as trustworthy supply chains have resumed, there's been less scams. But the risk remains and everyone needs to stay vigilant.