Interpol warns that organized crime groups will likely try to steal 'liquid gold' COVID vaccines as well as peddle fake doses

  • Law enforcement agencies should be prepared for organized crime networks to try to steal COVID-19 vaccines, Interpol said in a statement Wednesday. 
  • The organization warned that criminal groups will likely attempt to infiltrate supply chains and sell fraudulent vaccines. 
  • The pandemic has "already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour," according to Interpol. 
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Multiple COVID-19 vaccines from firms including Pfizer and Moderna have proven highly effective and are set to be distributed in massive quantities over the coming months once approved by regulators. But, as if obtaining, storing, and distributing millions of doses wasn't challenging enough, countries around the world will likely need to overcome yet another hurdle: organized crime.

Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, issued a statement Wednesday to law enforcement agencies in its 194 member countries alerting them of the threat that organized crime networks pose to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

As countries roll out vaccines, organized crime networks will likely attempt to penetrate supply chains and steal doses, the group warned, adding that law enforcement should be on the lookout for people passing off fake vaccines online. 

"Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives," said Jürgen Stock, Interpol's secretary-general. "It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, which is why Interpol has issued this global warning,"

According to the group, the pandemic has "already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior." Interpol also said that, as global travel slowly returns, criminal entities will likely ramp up production and distribution of fraudulent COVID-19 testing kits.

The alert comes as public health officials around the globe evaluate multiple COVID-19 vaccines that recently completed trials and appear to be safe and effective. On Wednesday, the UK authorized Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine for emergency use, and other countries are expected to follow suit. 

Read more: Pharmacies, doctor's offices and hospitals are gearing up to give coronavirus vaccines to millions of Americans. Here's how they're preparing and how much they stand to profit along the way.

Over the last several months, there have been instances of groups and indviduals attempting to illegally profit off of the pandemic by selling personal protective equipment at inflated prices, taking advantage of the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program, and other schemes. 

As news of multiple promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates broke in November, Interpol released an initial statement warning law enforcement agencies of the likelihood that organized crime would target storage facilities and supply chains, likening the forthcoming vaccines to "liquid gold to organized crime networks."

But, according to the agency, one of the main threats posed by organized crime during the pandemic has been to people's data and devices.

In Wednesday's memo, Interpol noted an increasing volume of COVID-19-related scams, and recommended that people be extra careful when shopping for medicines or medical equipment online. Of 3,000 online pharmacies the group suspected of selling illicit devices and products, more than half also contained cyber threats. 

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