Consumers in America and around the world are being warned about fake COVID-19 vaccines that are being pushed by scammers.
The INTERPOL organization, based in Lyon, France, is working with the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations division to issue warnings about “vaccines and treatments” offered 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,” the group said.
Legitimate vaccines, the police force warned, “are not for sale.”
“They are strictly administered and distributed by national healthcare regulators,” INTERPOL said.
“Anyone buying these products online also runs the risk of potentially giving their money to organized criminals.”
The vaccine market for COVID-19 has been thriving since former President Trump pushed regulators and industry to develop vaccines in record time. Several have been approved for use in the United States on an emergency basis, and by the time Trump left office more than a million doses were being administered daily.
“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.”
He continued: “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.”
Police around the world already have been making arrests and seizing fake products in their investigation of vaccine scams, INTERPOL said.
“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 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,” he said.
Often, criminals set up websites purporting to represent legitimate organizations offering vaccine help.
“These websites offer payments in Bitcoins and other payment processing methods,” INTERPOL said.
The sites also use trademarks of pharmaceutical companies to deceive. In December, 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.”
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