INTERPOL and the United States’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) have joined forces to warn the public against purchasing alleged COVID-19 vaccines and treatments online.
With criminal groups producing, distributing and selling fake vaccines, the risks to the public are clear: these can include buying a product which not only does not protect against COVID-19, but poses a serious health hazard if ingested or injected. Such products are not tested, regulated or safety-checked.
Legitimate vaccines are not for sale. They are strictly administered and distributed by national healthcare regulators.
Anyone buying these products online also runs the risk of potentially giving their money to organized criminals.
“From the very beginning of the pandemic, criminals have preyed on people’s fears in order to make fast cash. Fake vaccines are the latest in these scams, which is why INTERPOL and HSI are warning the public to be extra vigilant,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
« Anyone ordering a vaccine online rather than obtaining it from their national provider, will be buying a fake product.”
“The networks behind these crimes have global ambitions. No country or region can fight this type of crime alone. INTERPOL is assisting law enforcement around the world to both identify criminal networks and to dismantle them,” added Secretary General Stock.
Following a global alert issued by INTERPOL in late 2020 the world police body recently announced the first internationally linked arrests and seizures in connection with fake vaccines after criminal networks were disrupted in China and South Africa.
INTERPOL has also been receiving additional information on fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, including nursing homes.
“Counterfeit vaccines threaten the health of consumers who are duped by nefarious actors seeking to exploit the pandemic situation for financial gain. HSI and its law enforcement partners will vigorously investigate and seek prosecution for criminals taking advantage of the public’s quest for COVID-19 vaccinations and those who endanger the lives of the very people the vaccines are intended to protect,” said HSI Assistant Director, and Director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, Steve Francis.
“HSI will continue to work with INTERPOL to coordinate investigations targeting every level of the transnational criminal organizations trafficking in counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines,” added Mr Francis.
An emerging trend has seen cybercriminals set up illicit websites claiming to be legitimate national and/or world organizations offering pre-orders for vaccines against the COVID-19 virus. These websites offer payments in Bitcoins and other payment processing methods.
Using trademark logos of major pharmaceutical companies producing approved COVID-19 vaccines, the fake websites are suspected of being used to conduct phishing attacks and/or dupe victims into giving charitable donations.
In addition to opening up their computer to cyberattacks when attempting to purchase alleged COVID-19 vaccines online, people also run the risk of having their identity stolen.
In December 2020, HSI seized two websites purporting to be those of biotechnology companies developing treatments for the COVID-19 virus. Instead they appeared to have been used to collect the personal information of individuals visiting the sites, in order to use the information for criminal purposes, including fraud, phishing attacks, and/or deployment of malware.
Ransomware attacks have also been conducted against hospitals, laboratories, local governments and other targets, remotely blocking computer systems and demanding a payment to release them.
Given the need for a global response against these types of cyber-enabled fraud and financial crime, INTERPOL created the Global Financial Crime Task Force (IGFCTF) in 2020 with member countries in order to enhance international cooperation and innovation with public and private sector partners.
FAKE COVID VACCINE DISTRIBUTION NETWORK DISMANTLED AFTER INTERPOL ALERT
Hundreds of illicit vaccines seized with arrests made across two continents
LYON, France – South African authorities have seized hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccines following a global alert issued by INTERPOL warning vaccines would be a prime target for criminal networks.
Some 400 ampoules – equivalent to around 2,400 doses – containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng, where officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national.
In China, police successfully identified a network selling counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines, raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects, and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines on the scene.
The investigation was supported and facilitated by INTERPOL’s Illicit Goods and Global Health (IGGH) Program.
ARRESTS FOLLOW GLOBAL ALERT
The arrests came just weeks after INTERPOL issued an Orange Notice warning law enforcement to prepare for organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online.
The alert also included details and images of genuine vaccines and authorized shipping methods provided by pharmaceutical companies to assist in the identification of fake vials.
It again underlined the unique role played by INTERPOL in ensuring law enforcement across its 194 member countries are updated on crime trends and can swiftly and securely exchange information.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine related crime,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock
“Following our warning that criminals would target the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, both on and offline, INTERPOL continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens.
According to Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General : “These arrests, underline the unique role of INTERPOL in bringing together key players from both the public and private sectors to protect public safety.”
“Since COVID-19 reached the shores of South Africa, the government has adopted an integrated multi-disciplinary law enforcement approach. This, together with our association with counterparts from all INTERPOL member countries, is proving to be very effective as we have seen in the arrests for foreign nationals attempting to peddle fake vaccines to unsuspecting people within South Africa,” said Brigadier Vish Naidoo, South African Police National Spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said, “The Chinese government attaches great importance to vaccine security. Chinese police are conducting a targeted campaign to prevent and crack down on crimes related to vaccines, proactively investigating and combating crimes related to vaccines in accordance with law. We will further strengthen the constructive cooperation with INTERPOL and law enforcement agencies of other countries to effectively prevent such crimes.”
Investigations are continuing, and in addition to the arrests in South Africa and China, INTERPOL is also receiving additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.
INTERPOL is again warning the public that no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online. Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web, will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous.
Anyone who buys these drugs is putting themselves at risk and giving their money to organised criminals.