According to a briefing document by EU anti-fraud office OLAF, European governments and health authorities have been approached by criminals impersonating intermediaries representing pharmaceutical companies with scam offers for COVID-19 vaccines, reported Bloomberg.
The offers amount to more than 900 million doses with a total price of about €12.7 billion, the documents states.
The "intermediaries" use websites and social media profiles to give the appearance of being legitimate businesses, and require payment of a deposit upfront. Further, some 92% of the scam offers were for AstraZeneca's vaccine AZD1222.
"In multiple cases, at the time of the offer the companies involved had already been dissolved, or were managed by persons with a proven criminal record," the document says, noting that the vast majority of offers have been sent via email to central governments.
The report also outlines the risk of orchestrated theft of vaccines at different stages of the distribution process, the possibility that vaccines may be diverted by corrupt officials or medical staff, and that counterfeit or sub-standard vaccines may be circulated on illicit markets.
"A new criminal trend seems to be emerging pointing to targeted fraud attempts affecting public authorities responsible for the procurement of vaccines," said Jan Op Gen Oorth, a Europol spokesman, adding that "several cases in EU member states have been recently reported to [us]."
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