NHS England and Greater Manchester Police last month issued security advice for community pharmacies after it was found that some pharmacies had been targeted by phone scammers. The scammers, who falsely claimed to be phoning from the police, requested information on “stocks of medicines, storage, security measures and vulnerability” from the pharmacies.
While the advice said the police had since been able to confirm that “several of the calls made were in fact genuine and had good intent”, it said “others were in fact false”. While the objective behind the false calls remain unclear, it is understood that the callers were attempting to “elicit vital information” from pharmacies.
The police advised pharmacists to be “aware, alert and vigilant” and added that any police officer calling a pharmacy would give their name, ID number and the police station at which they are based.
Guidance for pharmacies on dealing with suspicious calls include confirming the caller’s identity; noting down the phone number they are phoning from, if it is displayed; and ascertaining exactly what they want to know. Pharmacy teams are also advised to be wary of any questions related to stock quantities, staff numbers, opening times, the layout of the premises, the location of the pharmacy’s controlled drugs cabinet and who is a keyholder.
The guidance also suggests asking callers purporting be police officers if they know or are “aware of” their force’s controlled drug liaison officer.
“Easy targets for criminal gangs”
In a separate letter, the Metropolitan Police last month warned pharmacists against “an increased risk of criminal activities”, explaining that “some patients will be aware that a larger than normal amount of controlled substances are being delivered to and stored in, pharmacies”.
Pharmacies should consider implementing safeguarding measures such as not divulging “when deliveries are expected”, preparing “storage and sorting areas in advance of deliveries” and securing “computer log in cards”, the Metropolitan Police said in as separate document featuring security advice for pharmacies during COVID-19.
Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) chief executive Leyla Hannbeck told C+C last month (April 28) that pharmacy teams need “extra protection” during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they are “vulnerable during this period”.
“[Pharmacies] are the only businesses that are open now, so they are easy targets for criminal gangs. That’s because they are dealing with substances that are attractive to criminals,” she said.
“We would like the police and authorities to be more protective [of pharmacies] during these difficult times and work with pharmacy organisations”.
Pharmacy teams can find Metropolitan Police guidance on protecting themselves against fraud and cyber crime here.