Mafia groups will most likely to try to disrupt the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, international police organization Interpol warned on Wednesday.
In a statement, the group warned its 194 member countries to be on high alert for organized crime networks attempting to infiltrate supply chains to get their hands on the vaccine. They also warned about the sale of fraudulent coronavirus vaccines.
“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 Interpol Secretary-General Jürgen Stock.
“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.”
The warning comes as health authorities in the US and elsewhere scrutinize multiple vaccines that have been developed. The United Kingdom on Wednesday became the first Western country to officially authorize a vaccine, giving the green light to Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, which trials showed to be safe and 95% effective at blocking COVID-19.
Last month, Interpol issued a warning about the risk of genuine COVID-19 vaccines being trafficked, advising law enforcement agencies around the world to start preparing immediately to prevent such crimes.
“High demand combined with a limited supply will make COVID-19 vaccines the equivalent of liquid gold to organized crime networks as soon as one is available,” Stock said.
There is also a risk that fake COVID-19 tests may be sold, the organization added, as the need for testing will likely increase as international travel begins to pick back up.
Interpol has previously warned the public about counterfeit medication and other medical items, which it noted had become of particular concern during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the group said an analysis it had conducted showed that “of 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1,700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware.”
In Wednesday’s warning, it also noted that the pandemic has already “triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior.”
There has been a rise in cybercrime, Interpol said in August, with corporations and governments being the prime targets. The widespread shift of business operations from offices to online caused a sharp uptick in phishing, malware, online scams, and misinformation.
Throughout the pandemic, there have been many cases of opportunists taking advantage of the moment to commit fraud and gouge mask prices.
In several cases, people have been arrested for trying to sell millions of dollars worth of masks that they did not actually possess.
In March, right when COVID-19 was starting its spread in the US, law enforcement all across the country issued warnings about scammers knocking on people’s doors claiming to be CDC officials and offering to test people for money.