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Rising Covid-19 Vaccine SCAMS: How To Avoid Them?

The demand for the Covid-19 vaccine has increased exponentially as countries across the globe are struggling because of the manufacturing short supply and ongoing pandemic. The virus was first reported from Wuhan, China in December 2019 and since then it has claimed the lives of more than 2.5 million people worldwide and infected around 115 million people to date as per the research led by John Hopkins University. 

As the news of fake vaccination certificates being sold on the darknet by anonymous sources are making headlines, it has instilled fear among the people. According to Interpol, BBC writes thousands of doses of fake Covid-19 vaccine has been seized from China and South Africa. 80 people allegedly involved in the production and distribution of fake vaccines were arrested in China. South Africa only began its vaccination campaign on 17th February and yet reports of the counterfeit vaccines have already emerged. 2400 doses of fake vaccines were found at a warehouse in South Africa and three Chinese nationals and a Zambian were arrested by the Police. Interpol is actively working with the Police to track down crimes related to the vaccine. Last month the leader of a multi-million dollar scam that was selling saline solutions and mineral water as Covid-19 vaccines in China was tracked down and arrested. 

Although cases of crimes and frauds related to vaccines have been surfacing in recent times, Interpol had issued a global alert warning for countries to prepare for criminal rings and organised crime networks aiming towards the Covid-19 vaccines. 

Interpol is urging the general public to report to police or concerned authorities if they come across any such counterfeit products. A statement by Interpol added, “To avoid falling victim to online scams, it is important to be vigilant, be skeptical, and be safe, as offers which appear too good to be true usually are.”

The counterfeit vaccines are smuggled through various channels around the world and are hard to identify as they are said to have been acquired via genuine manufacturers. In some cases, they have been reported to be sold at hospitals for inflated prices. Due to increased competition to procure the limited amount of available vaccines various organizations are trying to buy the vaccines through other channels which heightens the chances of buying fake vaccines. This puts a lot of people at risk as these counterfeit products aren’t tested and regulated. Some of them even contain dangerous ingredients like mercury, arsenic, rat poison, or cement which poses serious health hazards.

Fake vaccines don’t just include vaccines with hazardous elements, they may also be mislabelled, badly stored, expired, or contain too little or too much of the active ingredient. The packaging of the counterfeit vaccines looks eerily similar to the real ones which makes it even harder for the consumers to differentiate. The leader of the Chinese multi-million dollar scam had researched the packaging design of the real vaccine and had manufactured 58,000 fake vaccines with similar packaging. To make things worse cybercriminals have hopped on the bandwagon and have begun trafficking fake vaccines and certificates in the darknet. After investigating a lot of criminal rings, Interpol has stressed that none of the approved vaccines are currently available for sale online. Fake vaccination certificates are being sold for as little as $150 by anonymous sources.

According to Check Point Research (CPR), an IT security firm there has been a 300 percent surge in fake vaccine ads in the last three months. The darknet requires a special browser to access it and not everyone is aware of it, so clearly their target audience isn’t the large audience. They target the vendors who purchase and supply vaccines in large amounts. In other cases, some are setting up websites claiming to be legitimate organizations taking pre-orders for Covid-19 vaccines. They even use trademark logos of major pharmaceutical companies producing approved Covid-19 vaccines which makes it even harder for normal people on the internet to distinguish between real and fake. These cybercriminals are using phishing attacks to deceive people into buying or donating fake vaccines. The CPR is encouraging the companies and countries to adopt a QR code system for the vaccine documentation to make its duplication difficult which is yet to be done.

How To Avoid Being Scammed For Fake Covid-19 Vaccine?

  • Never buy any medicine and covid-19 vaccine via any form of the internet medium.
  • Never fall into believing claims of covid cure unless it is recognized by WHO and responsible authority of your respective country.
  • Always consult a registered medical practitioner or your family doctor or local government bodies about the legality and availability of the covid-19 vaccine being used.
  • Do Not respond to unauthorized Emails, Texts, SMS, and Advertisements regarding covid-19 vaccines. Be aware of free vaccination camps offered by NGOs, Private organizations, Groups, Communities, Social and Religious enterprises. Globally covid-19 vaccines are provided for free by local government bodies of almost all countries.
  •  It is a scam when someone asks you for Money, Social security number, Bankcard detail, or any Personal or Financial information for early access to the vaccine and putting your name on the list.

The scammers are taking advantage of the scarcity of vaccines and the desperation of people for their profit. The concerned authorities are doing their part in busting these crime rings, however, people should also be aware of these issues. Federal Trade Commission has advised people to contact a trusted source in their state and/or country for information regarding the vaccine and each country has its own policy regarding the vaccination campaign and to ignore any sales ads for the vaccine.

As per WHO global counterfeit medicine market is estimated to be worth $200 billion annually. The origination of fake medicine is traced to Asian nations and the end market is mostly poor African nations. As per Fight the Fakes (FTF) Alliance a multi-stakeholder non-profit association, falsified and substandard medicines pose a grave danger to patient safety and health systems and hinder efforts towards achieving universal health coverage.

Not only buying the vaccine from anyone other than the national provider includes chances of the product being fake and hazardous to health but the cybercriminals may also exploit the buyer’s personal information. In times like these, the general public needs to be extra careful with their personal, financial, or health information.

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