‘Next level’ scammers targeting general practice

Jolyon Attwooll

9/11/2023 3:26:48 PM

An attempt to scam Dr Karim Ahmed failed but he has warned that the sophisticated methods could easily fool those not on their guard.

Dr Karim Ahmed
Dr Karim Ahmed was the target of scammers, but became suspicious of their motives in time.

A Canberra GP has sounded the alarm on ‘very clever’ scammers he believes are deliberately targeting general practices.
Dr Karim Ahmed, who has been a GP in Australia for the past seven years, raised concerns after he was contacted by fraudsters with a seemingly in-depth knowledge of how general practice works.
He told newsGP that, while the scammers were ultimately unsuccessful on this occasion, the sophistication was ‘next level’ and he believes that other clinics could be at risk.
The first approach was via a phone call to the general practice reception where Dr Ahmed works. He was given a number, which looked like a local Canberra contact, and asked to call someone back who said they were another GP working at a different clinic in the city.
‘We do this every single day, all day. You get phone calls from pharmacies, from other practices, specialists, about mutual patients,’ he said.
‘I said “fine, I’ll just call back whenever I have time”, which I did.’
When he called the number, somebody answered – Dr Ahmed presumed at the time it was a receptionist – giving the name of the general practice clinic, and he asked to speak to the ‘doctor’ who had left the message.
‘He said, “well, she’s busy with the patients now, can I get her to call you back?”
‘I said “Sure,” and a few minutes later, I get a phone call from the lady again and I speak to her this time.’
Instead of wanting to discuss a patient, the woman asked Dr Ahmed whether he would be interested in taking on any extra work, including as a locum, saying that she was making inquiries on behalf of a recruitment company.
Dr Ahmed said he was working full time and unable to do so but was struck by the caller’s understanding of how general practice operates – on the surface at least.
‘She was asking me what my preferred locations were, and [whether] I prefer private or mixed billing,’ he said.
‘She knew exactly what she was talking about, I was surprised.
‘That’s the tricky thing and that’s why people can easily fall for this.
‘And they played it very well – pretending to be busy the first time with a patient, it makes it feel more real.’
However, for Dr Ahmed the inquiry from another general practice about locum work was unusual, and alarm bells began to ring.
When he called the number after hours, he found there was no practice answer phone on, which roused his suspicions further still.

Dr Ahmed also looked up the practice and noticed the number listed was different to the one he had been given.

The following day he confronted the caller, then reported the incident to ScamWatch, a government website aimed at raising awareness about scams, as well as offering a place to report them.
Another report of a similar scam has been reported to the college, giving rise to concerns that general practices are being deliberately targeted.
Dr Ahmed believes that somebody interested in working other hours elsewhere could easily have supplied personal details.
‘I was very disturbed by the fact that they had the guts to actually call the practice and try to play this game,’ he said.
According to ScamWatch, which is run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), scam calls of this nature cost Australians $141 million in fraud last year.
It states that one in three scams is carried out by phone.
The website gives the following advice on how to check whether a call is genuine:

  • never use contact details given by a caller or written in an email or SMS
  • call the organisation or person back on a phone number you have found yourself (on their website) 
  • use the organisation’s secure, authenticated portal or app (never via a link).

ScamWatch also warns that a scam is likely if a caller:

  • asks for personal or financial information such as payment, or for you to move money between accounts, your password, pin, one-time code, or some other security information, credit card or banking details to process a refund or other ‘overpayment’
  • wants you to install software or access a secure account on your mobile phone or computer
  • threatens you with immediate arrest, deportation, or blackmail, etcetera
  • suggests you or your accounts have been hacked or involved in fraud
  • tells you about a way to make quick, easy money with little risk or effort.
In the meantime, Dr Ahmed hopes that telling his story will ensure other GPs are on their guard – and is glad he put his own up in time to stop the scammers getting any more information from him.
‘They’re very well trained, it was very clever,’ he said.
‘That’s why I wanted to warn our colleagues, because somebody else may fall for it.’
The ACCC was approached for comment.
An Information security in general practice resource is available on the RACGP website.
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Dr Aysha Hameed Lodhi   10/11/2023 7:38:37 AM

I have recently reported a scam to scam watch because scammers are using my name and calling other doctors and leaving messages
Very upset about that

Dr Alexander Ulysses Apfel   10/11/2023 9:02:55 AM

Recruitment companies have been pulling stuff like this for years in the UK. I’d be surprised it’s only just starting here. When I was a registrar a locum agency contacted the practice I worked at pretending to be our from our training program to get the details and completion dates of all the trainees so they could try and recruit us as soon as we qualified!

Dr Don Cameron   10/11/2023 3:43:30 PM

I have received many identical calls from recruitment agencies over the past 15 years. Seriously, who would want to deal with companies that use such questionable tactics?

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   11/11/2023 10:56:29 AM

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance