Tuesday, 08 December 2020

The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has warned the public of potential criminal elements seeking to exploit the global community in relation to the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

With the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour, Interpol – in an orange notice on Monday – said the swindling is expected to be in relation to the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

This also includes examples of crimes where individuals have been advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines.

“As a number of COVID-19 vaccines come closer to approval and global distribution, ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential,” said the organisation.

Interpol said law enforcement and health regulatory bodies will need to heighten coordination, as this “will also play a vital role to ensure the safety of individuals and wellbeing of communities”.

“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains.

“It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, which is why Interpol has issued this global warning,” said Interpol Secretary General, Jürgen Stock.

Stock warned that criminal networks will also target unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.

As international travel gradually resumes, Stock said it is likely that testing for the virus will become of greater importance, resulting in a parallel production and distribution of unauthorised and falsified testing kits.

With an increasing amount of COVID-19 related fraud, Interpol has also advised members of the public to take special care when online searching for medical equipment and medicines.

In addition to the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products, an analysis by the organisation Cybercrime Unit reveals that of the 3 000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1 700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware.

“To avoid falling victim to online scams, it is important to be vigilant, be sceptical and be safe, as offers which appear too good to be true usually are.

“Always check with your national health authorities or the World Health Organisation for the latest health advice in relation to COVID-19,” said Interpol.