Health authorities in 40 countries targeted by COVID‑19 vaccine scammers

Fraudsters impersonate vaccine manufacturers and authorities overseeing vaccine distribution efforts, INTERPOL warns

INTERPOL has issued a global warning about organized crime groups targeting governments with bogus offers peddling COVID-19 vaccines. The warning was issued to all of INTERPOL’s 194 member countries after the international law enforcement agency registered roughly 60 cases from 40 countries.

The scammers focused on employees of both hospitals and health ministries, offering to sell COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for distribution in their respective countries. To dupe their targets, the cybercriminals masqueraded as representatives of either vaccines manufacturers or governmental authorities directing the vaccine distribution efforts.

In an attempt to seal the fraudulent deal, the scammers targeted both work and personal email accounts of their marks and even attempted to contact them by phone, cold calling and touting fake vaccines. It’s worth noting that the purchase of vaccines is negotiated on either a governmental level or, in the case of the European Union (EU), by a special Joint Negotiation Team, so the scammers’ tactics should raise some suspicions.

Vaccine manufactures were also instrumental in shaping the warning, since INTERPOL based it around the information the manufacturers provided, highlighting other strategies leveraged by scammers, such as the use of fake websites and social media accounts.

“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,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

He went on to emphasize that with the pandemic raging on and countries still attempting to quickly and safely vaccinate their citizens, it was essential that the vaccine rollout process needed to be protected from the start of the manufacturing process until the vaccines are delivered.

An ongoing problem

Earlier this year, INTERPOL and the United States’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) issued a joint advisory warning against the purchase of bogus COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Cybercriminals have been extremely active throughout every stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting everyone ranging from regular people to various pharmaceutical companies and governmental organizations involved in the vaccine development, approval, and deployment process.

Over the past year, they have deployed a range of COVID-19 vaccine-related scams, hacked an Oxford University research lab involved in researching ways to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and even compromised the European Medicines Agency and then leaked stolen vaccine documents.

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