As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise across the world, so is the number of illegal and criminal activities taking advantage of the high market demand for fake medicines, personal protection and hygiene products.
A Global Fakes Pandemic
In the UK, a man is facing court for making fake kits which claimed to treat the COVID-19 virus. The kits allegedly contained harmful chemicals which people were being told to use to rinse their mouths, the BBC reports. In Istanbul, Turkish police seized one million counterfeit medical masks with an estimated value of US$500,000. In the US, Customs and Border Protection seized bags containing counterfeit coronavirus test kits at Los Angeles International Airport.
In early March, this year’s Operation Pangea XIII, a well-established international effort to disrupt the online sale of counterfeit and illicit health products, saw police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 90 countries take part in collective action against the illicit online sale of medicines and medical products. The operation resulted in 121 arrests worldwide and the seizure of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than US$14 million.
EU joins Global Fight against Fakes
Counterfeit masks have been offered online in different EU Member States at prices ranging between 5€ and 10€, approximately three times the normal retail price, as well as fake face masks for children that could prove harmful. According to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), empirical evidence suggests that these counterfeit products enter Europe through online sales and are brought into homes via postal or courier services.
To mitigate the situation, OLAF launched an enquiry into fake COVID-19-related products on 30 March. OLAF is in close contact with authorities in Member States and third countries, taking preventive measures to ensure that fake products such as masks, medical devices, disinfectants, sanitisers and test kits do not enter Europe.
Currently No Vaccines or Treatments for COVID-19
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with vaccine and drug manufacturers to develop new vaccines and find drugs to treat COVID-19 but none exist currently. Fraudulent individuals and companies are trying to profit from the pandemic by selling unproven and illegally marketed products that make false claims while the FDA has issued warnings about fake coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments being marketed in the Unites States.
“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to public health. We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn.
Protect Yourself Today
Amidst the crisis, people should only seek advice from registered healthcare professionals and should only purchase medicines and other related products from authorised sellers. This is especially important when buying online – beware of suspicious and illegitimate websites and resellers.
The FDA shares some tips to identify false or deceptive claims:
- Be suspicious of products that claim to treat a wide range of diseases.
- Personal testimonials are no substitute for scientific evidence.
- Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, so be suspicious of any therapy that claims to be a “quick fix.”
- “Miracle cures”, which claim scientific breakthroughs or contain secret ingredients, are likely a hoax.
- You can’t test yourself for coronavirus disease.
Misleading Claims could Claim a Life
Products and medicines that claim to cure, treat or prevent the COVID-19 virus may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm. Because COVID-19 has never before been seen in humans, there are currently no proven vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat the disease.
As citizens and companies across the world join in solidarity to help flatten the curve, it is up to everyone to be vigilant.