Crooks exploit virus crisis

CRIMINALS are preying on a fearful public and disrupting the provision of medical care during the coronavirus pandemic by selling counterfeit products, impersonating health workers and hacking computers while many citizens do their jobs online at home, European law enforcement agency Europol said.

In one instance, a cyberattack on a major hospital in the Czech Republic (捷克), where Covid-19 tests are carried out, forced the cancellation of planned surgeries, Europol said in a new report.

Organised crime groups, well-known for identifying new opportunities, have found new pathways to scam people made vulnerable by fears of the virus, which, like the criminals, knows no borders, said the report.

“Criminals have quickly seized the opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modes of operation or developing new criminal activities,” Europol Executive Director Catherine de Bolle said, adding that people must be constantly vigilant and prepared.

Europol’s report lists four main avenues for illicit activity: cybercrime, fraud, counterfeit and substandard goods, and organised property crime.

Coronavirus-related criminal activity is not limited to Europe. A 3-10 March operation in 90 countries, overseen by international police agency Interpol (國際刑警), dug out suspects seeking fast cash, notably with the sale of counterfeit face masks and medicines.

Interpol said that it disrupted the work of 37 organised crime groups, seized 34,000 fake and substandard masks, and more than US$14 million (HK$31m) in potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals.

(This article is published on Junior Standard on 6 April 2020)


Europol website newsroom


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