The outbreak of the coronavirus disease has offered an opportunity for fast cash for criminals as they exploit shortages of genuine products and the anxieties of regular citizens. Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports
From websites selling fake COVID-19 blood screening tests taken down by several EU Member States’ law enforcement authorities to the seizure of substandard facemasks originating from Brazil and the sale of chloroquine via instant messaging apps, counterfeiters have been quick to cash in on COVID-19, according to EUROPOL.
The profits generated by these criminals during this time of crisis are likely very substantial, as these criminals operate in complete disregard of the health and well-being of all.
The organised crime groups involved in the production and distribution of counterfeit goods have proven highly adaptable in terms of shifting product focus, marketing and packaging to suit or shape current demand.
Five key trends
- Companies targeting the EU for distribution of counterfeit pharmaceutical products and equipment are registered to addresses both within the EU (Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands, Poland among others) and outside the EU (China, India, United States).
- While counterfeit goods related to the COVID-19 pandemic have appeared on the dark web, the product offerings available there remain limited compared to the surface web, which continues to host the primary distribution platforms for counterfeit goods.
- Alongside existing platforms for counterfeits, a significant number of new websites were established for the express purpose of profiting from the pandemic. These websites sell fake COVID-19 home test kits and offer unconfirmed and often false advice on the treatment of COVID-19.
- Some criminal groups may offer counterfeit or substandard food items more widely due to increased demand following some citizens’ fear of perceived food shortage.
- If a genuine vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, this will likely prompt a wave of offers for counterfeit vaccines.