People’s health is at risk if they are tempted into buying a covid vaccine privately, says OLAF, the EU’s police force. It is investigating the criminal provision of fake or illegally obtained and therefore unreliable Covid vaccines by fraudsters cashing in on Covid panic.
Such a fraud affects directly people’s health. But Covid has also been seized upon as a money making exercise to bilk state exchequers. Emergency loan and grant schemes were provided by governments to keep businesses afloat. But the British “bounce back” scheme was massively bilked by international criminals.Fraudsters mocked up 25,000 duplicate applications that got through the threadbare checking system. Over £1 billion was paid out by the British government to companies with offshore accounts largely in the Balkan states, that will never be retrieved.
£1 billion stolen
In fact this was only 4% of the total paid out on the scheme, which paid out £23 billion, and government will excuse their lack of control on the need to act with speed in an emergency.
Fraudsters have long made millions selling fake or low quality pharmaceuticals online. Now the covid vaccine is their scam of choice and it is being targeted at desperate people.
Most would-be purchasers know that governments are buying up and supplying vaccine in a structured way to targeted groups of people, but when someone comes and offers you a way to apparently cut a corner, it is easy to deceive yourself. The risk of vaccine fraud is the greater as more vaccines of dubious quality are developed, said one analyst.
One ruse to make the offer more persuasive is to use a logo that has been mocked up to look like it has come from a vaccine manufacturer, a state finance department, a treasury, the World Health Organization or even the couriers DHL.
The requirement by airlines for travellers to provide negative certificates for virus tests before flying has created a black market in fake certificates. Europol, the European police force, has found them selling for between €40 and £100 a piece at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Fear and greed are two emotions that aid the fraudster at this time of crisis. So fraudsters have created phishing emails telling the recipient that he has been in contact with someone diagnosed with Covid. The pressure on the recipient to respond urgently and without suspicion is intense. An investigation revealed that the website led to a fake website that was used to steal personal and financial information. Another bogus website offered to disclose details of covid cases in the vicinity.
The Great Greed
Greed is a big motive for people to succumb to fraudsters at all times, but when the economy is so troubled as now, it is yet more powerful. In one scam fraudsters who had criminally obtained details of ticket sales and cancelled flights were impersonating the airline to approach travellers to make the refund. They wanted bank details and other personal information for further frauds. Naive individuals will deceive themselves into seeing this as an easy way to make money.
“Shopping fraud has grown 50% because fraudsters know people are buying goods from their desks. Cold calls from fraudsters are increasing,” said Graeme Biggar, the head of the UK’s National Economic Crime Centre.
Booby trapped websites
Schemes offering state grants to people who have financial worries are currently abounding. Fraudsters seek the target to open up a “booby-trapped” website, one that catches personal data such as bank details and passwords. Some schemes might even try get the recipient to make an upfront payment.
The catch is only discovered when the fraudster is found to be using personal and financial information you have given him access to.
The coronavirus has also fuelled desperation and that is pushing people to deceive themselves. For example, people are buying personal protective equipment, sanitizers, personal testing kits, gloves and so on from unknown sources. Some purchasers – and that has included governments — received deficient equipment that was not usable, while others received nothing at all.
Know your suppliers
The lesson here is to know your sources but at these times of tension and erratic change, information is scarce and cool heads and due diligence in short supply.
Working from home is also opening up all sorts of break downs in controls that fraudsters latch onto. For example, signing off invoices or making payments is normally done by people face to face in an office but when people are working remotely, the fraudster has only to break into a computer system to fake a signature to divert funds.
One solution has been to encode signatures to add protection. Firms that are working with reduced workforces or where the control function has been cut are also vulnerable to fraud.
Too good to be true
To prevent being defrauded by devious and cynical fraudsters, purchasers — individuals and governments alike—need to stand back and ask themselves the question: “Is this offer too good to be true?”
As soon as you feel you need to ask yourself the question, you most likely have answered it. That will be one less pay-day for the covid crooks.