In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, ACTIV Association draws the attention of all consumers to the dangers they expose if they purchase and consume counterfeit or illicit trade products. Criminals have been quick to seize opportunities and exploit this crisis by adapting their modus operandi or engaging in new criminal activities.
Daniel Mărăcineanu, General Director ACTIV Association, states: “We are currently living in complicated times, where we have to take into account new rules, challenges that put us to the test. Unfortunately, amid the general state of fear and uncertainty, there are individuals around us who irresponsibly speculate on the need for medicines, protective equipment, food and other commodities. We advise you to be cautious and not to act impulsively by purchasing products from dubious sources. It is necessary, more than ever, to be ourselves the first line of defence against these criminals”.
Europol has published a report* that analysis the actual evolutions that fall into four main crime areas:
The number of cyberattacks against organisations and individuals is significant and is expected to increase. Criminals have used the COVID-19 crisis to carry out social engineering attacks themed around the pandemic to distribute various malware packages. Cybercriminals are also likely to seek to exploit an increasing number of attack vectors as a greater number of employers institute telework and allow connections to their organisations’ systems. For example, The Czech Republic reported a cyberattack on Brno University Hospital which forced the hospital to shut down its entire IT network, postpone urgent surgical interventions and re-route new acute patients to a nearby hospital.
Fraudsters have been very quick to adapt well-known fraud schemes to capitalise on the anxieties and fears of victims throughout the crisis. These include various types of adapted versions of telephone fraud schemes, supply scams and decontamination scams. A large number of new or adapted fraud schemes can be expected to emerge over the coming weeks are fraudsters will attempt to capitalise further on the anxieties of people across Europe. An investigation supported by Europol focuses on the transfer of €6.6 million by a company to a company in Singapore in order to purchase alcohol gels and FFP3/2 masks. The goods were never received.
COUNTERFEIT AND SUBSTANDARD GOODS
The sale of counterfeit healthcare and sanitary products as well as personal protective equipment and counterfeit pharmaceutical products has increased manifold since the outbreak of the crisis. There is a risk that counterfeiters will use shortages in the supply of some goods to increasingly provide counterfeit alternatives both on- and offline. Between 3-10 March 2020, over 34 000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized by law enforcement authorities worldwide as part of Operation PANGEA supported by Europol.
ORGANISED PROPERTY CRIME
Various types of schemes involving thefts \have been adapted by criminals to exploit the current situation. This includes the well-known scams involving the impersonation of representatives of public authorities. Commercial premises and medical facilities are expected to be increasingly targeted for organised burglaries.
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said: “While many people are committed to fighting this crisis and helping victims, there are also criminals who have been quick to seize the opportunities to exploit the crisis. This is unacceptable: such criminal activities during a public health crisis are particularly threatening and can carry real risks to human lives. That is why it is relevant more than ever to reinforce the fight against crime. Europol and its law enforcement partners are working closely together to ensure the health and safety of all citizens”.
Also, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), Eurojust and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) warn us** that there have been confiscated 36 million units of medicine worth 7.9 million Euro, among which pseudoephedrine, anti-cancer drugs, antihistamines, anxiolytics, erectile dysfunction medicines, hormone and metabolic regulators, narcotics, painkillers, antioestrogens, antivirals, hypnotics, and doping substances. These organizations say that the worring trends of medicine trafficking continue:
- Growing trafficking in the EU of oncologic medicines stolen from hospitals
- Asia remains the main source region for both medicines and doping products
- Medicines are diverted from the legal supply chain by wholesalers and resold to criminal groups
- Medicines are illegally obtained with forged or stolen medical prescriptions, with or without the help of doctors and pharmacists, and then resold to criminal groups or individuals directly
- Doping products are mainly sold online
- Counterfeited medicines and doping substances are illegally made and packed in underground laboratories often in the EU.