29-Apr-20 Counterfeiting

Photo by Pedro Figueras from Pexels

Continuing in the vein of transnational crimes this week, it is worth noting how criminals are responding to the pandemic and switching into counterfeit PPE and medical supplies. 

In normal times, there are established suppliers and distribution chains to manage, for example, the respirator mask needs of the health and social care sector.  But since the advent of novel coronavirus, PPE demand globally has soared and so hospitals and other institutions are stepping out of their normal chains and trusted relationships.  In markets where products are scarce or in short supply, grey markets will often emerge to sell the item at any price the market will bear. 

There is evidence of substandard (though not necessarily ‘counterfeit’) masks being produced in China and Turkey for example, but also fakes of branded masks such as 3M N95’s.  N95 respirators are the gold-standard in COVID-19 protection and are used by frontline health workers.  The designation ‘N95’ means that in testing the mask blocked out at least 95 per cent of small particles from passing through – including viral pathogens.  Unless masks meet that N95 standard, they are unlikely to protect the wearer from infection.  So this is a deadly issue, potentially.

For hospital managers buying on the open market, signs to spot (as we learnt in the cybercrime lecture this week) are unsolicited emails from unknown sellers; requests to pay before receipt or use of payment methods which conceal the buyer identity.  But no-one is immune from making a mistake: last week Sussex and Surrey police forces realised that three batches in a 10,000 PPE facemask order had fraudulent paperwork.  Two-thousand seven hundred masks already delivered to local police stations had to be recalled. 

On 17 April 2020, Europol published a 17-page report considering viral marketing, counterfeits, substandard good and intellectual property crime in the wake of the pandemic. The report notes that particular attention should be paid when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, since this will likely create a wave of offers for counterfeit vaccines.  So ongoing vigilance is required. 

© Natasha Mulvihill and Criminology Tales, 2020. 

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