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COVID-19 Scams: COVID-19 Vaccines and Organized Crime

The world is eagerly awaiting the speedy distribution of vaccines against the coronavirus. However, the specter arises of their weaponization and misuse. Organized criminal networks have been preparing themselves to infiltrate the supply chain as vaccine delivery gets closer.

High demand combined with a limited supply

Coronavirus has caused more than 90 million global infections and more than 1.9 million deaths in a year. Thereby, it has also crippled economies worldwide. This global effect of the virus only makes the demand for a vaccine higher.

INTERPOL has warned of the high risk of abuse by organized crime groups.  These groups are likely infiltrate supply chains to sell fraudulent vaccines.  Months ago, it warned law enforcement agencies to be prepared for these organized crime groups.

Organized crime may infiltrate the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain through different paths, including the distribution of fake vaccines and sham cures. Criminal groups create fake websites disguised as authorized distributors. These websites promise to sell vaccines or alternative treatments to people who are desperate and vulnerable to deception. The less tech-savvy are at a higher risk of falling victim to these scams, as they are less likely to identify suspicious websites.

According to INTERPOL, the coronavirus has “already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior.”

The early months of the pandemic saw individuals and groups attempting to illegally profit from the coronavirus. Methods included selling PPIs at inflated prices and taking advantage of relief schemes set up by governments to ease the pandemic’s effect on their citizens.

As the pandemic has progressed, the risks have grown to include an array of COVID-19 scams and fake medical products.  Vaccines are the next opportunity.

 

Identifying COVID-19 vaccine crimes is critical to governments

Law enforcement has played a critical role in supporting control measures set by governments to control the disease and fight COVID-related criminal activity. Likewise, it is critical in facilitating the smooth roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.

INTERPOL cogently noted that identifying these crimes will become critical to governments’ ability to distribute the legitimate vaccines to patients. Therefore, the organization encouraged law enforcement to collaborate with health regulatory bodies to ensure the safety of individuals and communities.

It also advised members of the public to remain vigilant, especially when ordering medication or related equipment online. Meanwhile,  INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Unit disclosed that it identified 3,000 websites suspected of having links to pharmacies of selling illicit medication and medical devices. (A majority of these devices contained cyber threats like malware).

A growing concern

The health industry has seen a dramatic increase in cyberattacks since the pandemic first spread throughout the world. Cybercriminals have attempted to infiltrate systems of leading health and pharmaceutical organizations, and now that COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, organized criminal groups are hard at work to take advantage of the opportunities they present.

RKN Global stresses that although law enforcement has a key role in preventing the distribution of fraudulent medical devices and vaccinations, individuals must exercise vigilance to avoid becoming victims of COVID-19 vaccine scams.