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Illegal Trade of Fake PPE Skyrockets

An increase in the demand for pharmaceutical products to prevent the spread of coronavirus has caused an increase in trafficking of inferior and defective stock, the data was published on 8th July 2020 in a new UN research.

The pandemic has brought into light the lapse in the regulatory and legal frameworks, the goal of which is to prevent the manufacturing and sale of such duplicate products. All these points were mentioned in the UNODC research brief "COVID-19-Related Trafficking of Medical Products as a Threat to Public Health".

Tweet by Ghada Fathi Waly
Tweet by Ghada Fathi Waly

Taking Advantage of the Vulnerable

The unpredictability of the coronavirus and the discrepancies in the regulation of national regimes have opened doors for criminal gangs to exploit the most vulnerable population. PPEs are extremely essential in today's world and trading defective equipment is causing not only the exploitation of the poor but lacking adequate safety measures.

The sale of defective products carries a significant amount of risks to public health, as the equipment may not prevent the viral spread satisfactorily and can hamper the treatment of the infected patients. The resistance to the coronavirus becomes much less when your masks don't ensure protection.

Evidence shows that fraud and scams involved in the trade of manufacturing and selling of below-standard medical products have led to the spread of coronavirus in many places.

The German health authorities negotiated with two sales companies in Switzerland and Germany to obtain €15 million worth of masks through a copied website of an apparently legitimate company in Spain.

Urgent Global Approach Needed

The pandemic has also caused an increase in data-based scams including phishing (fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive data such as username, password, credit/debit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity) and the creation of fake websites of a legitimate company to loot the purchasers.

UNODC’s Prediction about Upcoming Smuggling Trends

Ghada Fathi Waly
Ghada Fathi Waly

UNDOC predicted that once the vaccines are developed, the next target of the smugglers will be the illegal trafficking of vaccines. Cyberattacks on security networks are expected to continue in the form of online scams aimed at health procurement authorities. There is a dire need to strengthen the legal frameworks and penalties, and global cooperation is needed to track these manufacturing units and catch the criminals. This will also require a detection and prevention team, comprising those who have the skill sets. This idea was maintained through the UNODC's brief.

Examples of Worldwide Coronavirus Scams

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) tracked down more than 2,000 online COVID-19 scams in March alone, which included 471 fake online shops selling fraudulent COVID-19-related items. Police in France removed 70 fraudulent websites claiming to sell Hydroxychloroquine in April. The scams in the USA amounted to US$13.4 million in fraud that has affected 18,000 people so far. In the first four months of 2020, 1,541 cyberattacks were detected in the UAE including 775 malware threats, 621 email spam attacks, and 145 URL attacks. 3300 thermometers were seized in Thailand. Criminal societies in the Western Balkans are believed to be involved in money laundering and investing their illicit gains in the production and trafficking of falsified medical products and protective clothing.

Inferior and falsified ventilators were sold in Russia, where a fraud inquiry has begun, as well as in the UK, where ventilators supplied were substandard and potentially dangerous.

The supply of inferior ventilators was also reported in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Data and Statistics: UN

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