Europol warns against coronavirus scams

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The European police authority has warned that con artists are preying on fears of illness by offering fake masks, medicine, COVID-19 tests and even vaccines.

Across Europe, many companies and individuals are forced to look on hopelessly as contracts are canceled and orders put on hold due to the effects of the new COVID-19 coronavirus. However, not every business sector is feeling the crunch — business is booming for fraudsters and con artists.

Europol, the EU’s Den Haag-based police authority, sounded the alarm. Catherine De Belle, Europol’s executive director, said on Friday that she was astonished at how fast con artists have come out of the woodwork to set up their latest business model.

“Whereas most people are busy trying to stave off the crisis or help those in need, there are also criminals who are trying to take advantage of the situation,” she said. “We cannot allow that to happen. Conducting crooked business during a health crisis is especially dangerous and could put lives at risk.”

Europol coordinates with police authorities across the EU and is responsible for all cross-border investigations.

Europol specifically warned against phony medicine available from online sites. The agency said that during operation “Pandea,” a recent global sting, police identified 2,000 websites offering useless anti-coronavirus pills, sprays and salves. Europol added that some 4 million packages of fake medicine were seized across 90 countries during the raid.

Police said they seized anti-viral medicine as well as counterfeit malaria treatments, none of which had been government approved. Authorities say fake protective masks were also widely available, noting that these were either useless or entirely overpriced. Europol also announced that it had confiscated some 34,000 fake surgical masks in early March.

But scared consumers are not the only ones falling for these cons, federal governments have fared no better. Belgian authorities recently placed a €5 million ($5.5 million) order for masks with a seller in Turkey, and as the Belgian newspaper Le Soir reported, they were never delivered. The Spanish daily newspaper El Pais also cited anonymous sources that claimed the Spanish government had used some 640,000 faulty coronavirus tests in Madrid. The tests were apparently Chinese-made and tended to give inordinately high numbers of negative results.

Read more via DW

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