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Interpol warns of criminal gangs threat to Covid-19 vaccines

The International Police (Interpol) on Wednesday issued a global alert to law enforcement agencies across its 194 member countries, asking them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

“The Interpol Orange Notice outlines potential criminal activity in relation to the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of Covid-19 and flu vaccines, with the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour,” it said.

The notice also includes examples of crimes where individuals were found to be advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines.

The alert was issued on the same day the United Kingdom approved the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for widespread use, becoming the first country to make the landmark decision.

“As a number of Covid-19 vaccines come closer to approval and global distribution, ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential. The need for coordination between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies will also play a vital role to ensure the safety of individuals and well-being of communities are protected,” said Interpol in a statement.

As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains.

“It also includes examples of crimes where individuals have been advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines,” it added.

Interpol has also advised members of the public to take special care when going online to search for medical equipment or medicines amid an increasing amount of coronavirus-related fraud activities.

He said that criminal networks would also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.

“It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the Covid-19 vaccine, which is why Interpol has issued this global warning,” said Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary General.

Given that international travel is gradually resuming, Interpol also suspects that testing for the virus will become of greater importance, leading to a parallel production and distribution of unauthorised and falsified testing kits.

“In addition to the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products, an analysis by the Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit revealed that of the 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1,700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware,” it said.

“Always check with your national health authorities or the World Health Organisation for the latest health advice in relation to Covid-19,” added Interpol.