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COVID Crime Goes Viral

Crime doesn’t pay, but it’s costing headaches for many.

The COVID-19 vaccination program has stimulated one of the largest crime waves in history – and it also may turn out to be one of the most lucrative.

For crooks, the COVID crisis is an opportunity that must not be missed. The entire world’s population must be vaccinated, and every shot is a potential payment. This will go on for years.

In Brazil, patients are receiving shots of saline water and being told it is the vaccine. Meanwhile, the real stuff is siphoned off and sold on the black market. Well, after all, it is a universal rule of crime: whenever there is a shortage, there is a black market, and wherever there are people rich enough to buy, there will be someone standing by to be a supplier.

All of the traditional tools are being used to trick consumers: phishing emails, robocalls, text messages, imposters, websites.

Identity theft can take place when people receive a call asking for their information in order to verify eligibility to receive the vaccine. Other victims are being asked to provide a deposit so that they can receive early access to vaccination. Some facilities are simply taking bribes to place a person on the vaccination list.

In the U.S., people are being asked to pay a small “handling fee” to be placed on the waiting list for their vaccination. One scammer was using a website such as Eventbrite. People log in, make their reservation to get tested or vaccinated, pay their reservation fee, and then 10 days later or so, show up for their appointment only to find that the location or reservation does not exist.

People are getting offered COVID stimulus payments, or filing assistance in obtaining them, but this is little more than another identity theft scam.

Thousands of websites have sprung up offering COVID-related goods and services. Naturally, the market is full of gimmicks and fake homeopathic medicines that it is claimed will either cure COVID or prevent infection. Some websites offer international shipment of doses of the vaccine. INTERPOL has identified more than 3,000 websites operating online pharmacies and promising to sell COVID medicine. Two-thirds of the websites load malware onto to your system as soon as you click on a link.

Some websites are clones of real companies. In Mexico, was set up, purportedly to allow individuals, clinics, and hospitals to order shipments of the Pfizer vaccine. The website used all of the official trademarks and the look and feel of the real Pfizer website. It was all fake, and of course, the money disappeared.

In some countries, teams of fake public health workers, including identification and proper uniforms, are going from door to door, collecting personal identification information and supposedly registering citizens for their vaccination. But all they really are doing is stealing identities. Next step: raid their banking accounts.

In Italy, organized crime is working at intercepting shipments of the vaccine. Countries are reporting finding dozens of factories being set up to manufacture counterfeit vaccines.

There are many fake testing services. Most countries are requiring that before a citizen returns from overseas, they must have a recent COVID test to show they are not contaminated. Naturally, this has turned into a scam – the crooks simply sell the passenger a negative test result, although no actual test ever is taken.

At Charles de Gaulle Airport in metro Paris, the going rate for a fake negative covid test is two to three hundred dollars.

C’est la vie.

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Edward M. Roche, PhD, JD

Edward Roche is the director of scientific intelligence for Barraclough NY, LLC. Mr. Roche is also a member of the California Bar. Prior to his career in health law, he served as the chief research officer of the Gartner Group, a leading ICT advisory firm. He was chief scientist of the Concours Group, both leading IT consulting and research organizations. Mr. Roche is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board as an investigative reporter and is a popular panelist on Monitor Mondays.

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