Be on the lookout for fake vaccines, warns Europe’s top cop
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Be on the lookout for fake vaccines, warns Europe’s top cop

Catherine De Bolle, head of Europol. © European Parliament

Criminals are doing good business during the Covid-19 pandemic, up to and including selling fake vaccines to the fearful and vulnerable.

That was the warning issued today by Catherine De Bolle, former chief commissioner of the Belgian federal police, now chief of Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.

We are monitoring corona crime very specifically,” she said in an interview with De Zondag newspaper.

We investigate how criminals deal with the pandemic. And guess what? Criminals adapt and find new opportunities. We also saw this during the financial crisis. When the economy is bad, criminals do golden business. That’s because they take advantage of society’s weak spots. In this crisis, vulnerable people are mainly the ones exploited.”

Some things never change: human trafficking is still rampant, and the cost of coming to Europe in a time of closed borders has even risen. Drugs are still traded, with record seizures made in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Some things do change. Much crime has moved online, and a serious concern is online child abuse.
“Corona is leading to an explosive increase there,” she said.

In some member states, the number of reports has doubled, in others even times three. We have seen this increase since the beginning of the crisis. Many children are at home, but also many child molesters are at home. The children spend hours on the computer: doing homework, chatting with friends, playing games. So the criminals have time to actively search. By the way, the children are often approached through internet games. We are also seeing more exchange of abuse material.”

Europol has a special role to play because of the importance of international cooperation on a medium without frontiers.

International cooperation is so important in this area. We also create prevention campaigns in all languages, which can be used by the national services. But we cannot eradicate child abuse. To think that would be an illusion. There are simply many perverts. I’ve been working for the police for a long time. I’ve never known it to be otherwise.”

Meanwhile, the first evidence of fake vaccines has emerged, to confirm expectations that appeared the minute the virus did.

This week we started supporting a member state where false vaccines have been found. I am not yet allowed to disclose which country that is. I apologise. But fake vaccines are circulating. That is striking, because they are actually distributed by the government.”

And if the problem has arisen in one member state, it can be assumed it will do so in others, she agreed.

That is quite possible, yes. There is great uncertainty in this crisis. Many people are afraid. Criminals respond to this. They seek out the fears and exploit them. This has already led to false mouth masks, false certificates for negative corona tests and now also false vaccines. Some people have really lost every moral compass in this crisis. That’s horrible.”

Her practical advice? Vaccines are not legally for sale in the EU, so if you find some, you may assume they are illegal, and are almost certain to be fake.

I really want to recommend not to buy medication on dubious websites. Go to your pharmacy,” she said.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times