Illicit market boom in Covid-19 trade

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Faulty Covid-19 testing equipment and other merchandise flood global underground markets.

The United Nations reports a rise in criminal networks using the Covid-19 crisis as a gateway to quick cash. “Transnational organized crime groups take advantage of gaps in national regulation and oversight to peddle substandard and falsified medical products,” said Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

From money laundering to falsified reports of regulated ventilators, the new avenue for illegal activities grows. US enforcement agencies report that $13.4 million in fraud has been reported in the months between January and April of this year. In India, the drug Remdesivir is being sold ten times the average price, while in Italy, the hikes in masks resulted in the administration announcing basic coverings to remain at €50 cents to €1. Masks on the street have been upwards of €5. 

Along with a hike in prices, the UN says that cyberattacks related to Covid-19. Bloomberg reported malware attempted to paralyze U.S. Health and Human Services Department. In 1,541 cyberattacks were reported  in the United Arab Emirates.

The challenge of regulated equipment did not solely occur on the black market. During the height of Spain’s quarantine, they sent back thousands of faulty rapid-tests from China in March. In the US, due to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), doctors used trash bags and other items to protect themselves when told to buy gear at Home Depot. Around the country, efforts to make masks in a mask shortage emerged. But, a number of the masks did not adhere to standards of PPE.

“We need to help countries increase cooperation to close gaps, build law enforcement and criminal justice capacity, and drive public awareness to keep people safe,” emphasized  Waly.

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