EU's anti-fraud body warns against COVID-19 vaccine scams

The EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF is urging member states to be vigilant against fraudsters offering to deliver fake COVID-19 vaccines as the 27-nation bloc faces delays in the supply of shots

“For example, fraudsters may offer to sell large quantities of vaccines, deliver a sample in order to pocket the first advance payment and then vanish with the money," said Ville Itälä, the OLAF director-general.

“They may deliver batches of fake vaccines," Itälä added. "Or they falsely may purport to represent legitimate business and claim to be in the possession of or have access to vaccines. All of these claims have one thing in common: they are false."

OLAF's message echoed a warning from the EU's police agency Europol, which in December highlighted the risk of organized crime scams linked to COVID-19 vaccines, including the possibility criminals will try to sell dangerous counterfeit vaccines or to hijack shipments of genuine shots.

The EU has bought vaccine doses collectively but member states can also decide to negotiate separate agreements outside the commission’s umbrella as long as they don’t compete with the advance purchase agreement negotiated by the EU’s executive arm.

In addition to vaccine scams, OLAF is also monitoring illicit trade of face masks, test kits and other products linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. The anti-fraud body said they have not seized any fake vaccines so far but identified more than 1,000 suspected fraudsters and seized or detained “over 14 million items" including dangerous hand sanitizer, substandard face masks and fake test kits."

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