Criminals are selling fake COVID-19 vaccines and treatments online, in scams that can put people’s health, security, and bank balances at risk, Interpol has warned.
The international crime agency is advising people to be vigilant about such scams, and not to buy any coronavirus vaccine online.
In its warning, the agency said vaccines are only administered by national healthcare regulators and are “not for sale”.
From the start of the pandemic “criminals have preyed on people’s fears in order to make fast cash” said Interpol’s secretary-general Jürgen Stock.
“Anyone ordering a vaccine online rather than obtaining it from their national provider will be buying a fake product,” he added.
“The networks behind these crimes have global ambitions. No country or region can fight this type of crime alone.”
The agency warned anyone buying these products is at risk, not only of still being susceptible to coronavirus but also of serious adverse health effects due to whatever they have injected or ingested.
One such case being pursued by police occurred in January this year in London after a man defrauded an elderly woman by injecting her with a fake vaccine, and charging her for the procedure.
Police didn’t know what the woman was injected with, but she was checked at a local hospital and was found to have no ill effects.
Fake vaccines are just the latest in a line of scams that have emerged during the pandemic.
Interpol previously warned about fake or sub-standard medical equipment and medicines being sold in the wake of the pandemic.
Besides fake or faulty products, many people have fallen victim to online or telephone “phishing” scams, unwittingly giving criminals money or sensitive personal information.
The latest online scams
One emerging trend is cybercriminals setting up websites claiming to be national or international organisations, offering pre-orders for COVID vaccines.
They will use trademark logos of major companies or organisations and may dupe victims into giving what they think are charitable donations.
Victims may also be opening up their computers to cyber attacks when attempting to buy fake COVID vaccines online, and people run the risk of having their identities stolen.
"We urge people to only use the official channels of the authorities," said Oded Vanunu from cybersecurity firm Check Point.
"Cybercriminals are trying to gain profit from cryptocurrency and provide unknown vaccines."
"The supply is growing every day and it is creating some kind of pressure that means people might consider using dark web vaccines."