Ambulance purchase interrupted by scammers leaves Rockville Volunteer Fire Department out $220K

Who would steal from volunteers who dedicate their time to saving lives?

That’s what Eric Bernard, president of the Rockville Fire Department, would like to know. So would the Montgomery County Police, the FBI and the United States Secret Service.

The Rockville Volunteer Fire Department was recently the victim of scammers who apparently intercepted the transfer of funds while the purchase of two new ambulances was underway — and managed to siphon off $220,000.

The RVFD was in the process of buying two ambulances from its vendor when it was spoofed, and someone made off with $220,000. So far, $100,000 has been recovered, says Eric Bernard, president of the RVFD, pictured here. (Courtesy RVFD)

Bernard explains the investigation is still underway but the problem occurred somewhere during the purchase process.

Bernard said they were working with a longtime vendor but got spoofed at some point during email communications and in-person bank work regarding wiring instructions for the down payment, and were given a “bad number to send the money to.” All they know now, he said, is that someone — apparently in London — is suddenly flush with cash.

Bernard said there was no indication of a problem until a week after the purchase process when the vendor contacted the RVFD to ask if they wanted to complete the transaction. Bernard said the department was shocked, telling the vendor they thought the purchase had been completed.

One small bright spot, Bernard said, was that they knew what bank it went to, and one of the banks was able to recover $100,000. The remaining $150,000 has yet to be recovered.

Bernard said despite the current loss, the department is going ahead with a purchase of new vehicles. “We don’t want a delay,” he said, explaining that while the ambulance service specializes in racing patients to safety, purchasing specialized ambulance equipment isn’t a speedy process.

“These units that we were paying for last week aren’t going to be in service for another two years. That’s how long it takes to obtain all the equipment and put these units together,” Bernard said.

The total cost of the two units is “well over $700,000,” but Bernard said the department is able to continue with the down payment to keep the purchase process on track.

Still, he said, it’s a bit shocking: “Can you imagine preying upon a volunteer fire department buying an ambulance for the public? It’s crazy.”

Bernard said the community response to the news has been heartwarming.

“We’ve had a lot of people saying, ‘hey, can we donate?’ … Of course! You can always donate to the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department,” he said.

But while the department is always grateful for donations, Bernard said, beware of anyone calling claiming that they’re with the RVFD collecting donations — they don’t solicit donations by phone.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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