The International Police (INTERPOL) has warned all of its 194 member countries, including those in the Caribbean, to be on the lookout for organised crime groups attempting to defraud governments with fake offers to sell coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines.
In its global alert, INTERPOL said that at least 60 cases in 40 countries around the world have been reported where individuals in health ministries and hospitals have received offers for COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution in their country.
It said usually claiming to represent a vaccine manufacturer or a government agency facilitating the distribution of vaccines, the scammers are targeting both professional and personal email accounts of potential buyers, as well as making contact via phone.
The INTERPOL alert, issued to all 194 member countries, is based on information provided by vaccine manufacturers and highlights the types of modus operandi used in the attempted scams, including the use of fake social media accounts and websites.
INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said the alert underlined the importance of public/private sector cooperation.
“As we see with cybercrime, usually it is the private sector which has the most information about attacks and trends, which is exactly what has happened with these attempted vaccine scams.”
“Even when a fraud fails, it is important that it is reported to the police so that potential links can be identified and also, as in the case of the alert INTERPOL has issued, to warn law enforcement about these threats.”
“With the ongoing pandemic and efforts of countries to safely and quickly vaccinate their citizens, it is vital that the roll-out process is protected from manufacture to delivery,” Stock said.
The alert, issued under the umbrella of the INTERPOL Global Financial Crime Task Force (IGFCTF), is the most recent in a series of warnings issued in relation to COVID-related crime threats.
INTERPOL said criminals have exploited every stage of the pandemic from creating websites and social media accounts claiming to sell protective equipment and medical supplies to the manufacture and distribution of fake vaccines as well as ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure.
Launched in 2020, the IGFCTF is aimed at enhancing international cooperation and innovation between the public and private sector with a focus on cyber-enabled fraud, money laundering schemes and COVID-related crimes.
This latest alert follows the joint INTERPOL and the United States’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) warning to the public against purchasing alleged COVID-19 vaccines and treatments online earlier this year.
INTERPOL has since published guidelines on how people can protect both their personal and online security.