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COVID-19 vaccine fraud on the increase

  • United Kingdom
  • Financial services disputes and investigations
  • Fraud and financial crime
  • Litigation and dispute management

19-04-2021

With the continuing roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine, we consider the reports of fraud and scams being perpetrated against the public and businesses.

The roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine began in December 2020. To date, over 31 million people have received vaccine doses in the United Kingdom and more than 5 million people are fully vaccinated1.

The vaccine is currently available through the NHS only, which means it is free of charge. It is being rolled out in terms of priority, with those most vulnerable first on the list. Everyone else must wait for an invite from the NHS.

We have been in some form of lockdown for over a year now. It is of no surprise there have been reports of various scams looking to supposedly offer the COVID-19 vaccine to the public earlier than expected.

It has been reported that a woman supposedly attended the property of a 61 year old claiming to be there to administer the COVID-19 vaccine and requested payment of £170. When the victim said she did not have the money, it was offered to her for £75 instead. The victim called her GP to check the visit was genuine, which was when the woman left2.

A man has been charged with five offences related to a fake COVID-19 vaccine. He is accused of attending the property of a 92 year old victim to administer the vaccine, after which the victim was allegedly charged £160. It is alleged he returned five days later requesting a further £1003.

Another individual was charged with sending out scam text messages that related to the COVID-19 vaccine, pretending to be from the NHS (as well as other scams relating to DVLA and HMRCS)4.

There has also been numerous reports of scams via email, phone and text. This includes an email, which appears to be from the NHS, inviting the public to book their COVID-19 vaccine by clicking on a link. If you follow the link, it takes you to a webpage where you are asked to provide personal details, including bank details5.

More recently, it was reported that the identity of doctors and scientists had been stolen to scam people into buying the COVID-19 vaccine. Several posts were published on social media using stolen photos of doctors and nurses advertising the vaccine for sale6.

Any invitation which asks for payment for the COVID-19 vaccine or bank details is highly likely to be a scam. Fraudsters continue to adapt their practises to attempt to scam individuals during this period and reports of vaccine fraud will likely continue to increase.

Individuals are not the only people getting scammed. Large corporates and public bodies have also fallen victim to vaccination-related scams.

The EU’s anti-fraud office has reported that around 1 billion non-existent COVID-19 vaccine doses, worth about €14 billion, have been offered to governments across the EU by alleged intermediaries representing pharmaceutical companies7. These middlemen requested advance payments and provided no delivery details. The head of the EU’s anti-fraud office has stressed that pharmaceutical companies insist they sell directly to governments only.

An investigation carried out by Interpol has seized thousands of doses of fake COVID-19 vaccines in both China and South Africa8. Interpol advised that such sophisticated crime networks were targeting health bodies such as nursing homes with these scams.

With high demand globally for the COVID-19 vaccine, it is likely that COVID-19 related scams will continue to rise and become increasingly more intricate. It is therefore important that individuals, corporates and public bodies alike become alert to the threat posed by these scams to ensure they do not fall victim to them.


[1] As at 4 April 2021. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

[2] https://www.nottinghampost.com/news/disgraceful-fraudster-tries-sell-covid-4895296

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-55577426; https://www.cps.gov.uk/cps/news/man-charged-five-offences-around-fake-covid-19-vaccine

[4] https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-man-20-sent-scam-19683183

[5] https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/alert/warning-criminals-continue-to-take-advantage-of-coronavirus-vaccine-roll-out-as-phishing-email-reports-soar

[6] https://www.itv.com/news/2021-02-12/fraudsters-stealing-identity-of-doctors-and-scientists-to-scam-people-into-buying-covid-19-vaccines

[7] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-eu-vaccines-olaf-idUSKBN2AT355

[8] https://www.ft.com/content/67c171a7-4114-4dcc-b1cc-b1e04c771423

 

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