Mexico: vaccine scammers exploit patients’ plight

At the height of the pandemic in Mexico, crooks capable, among other things, of selling fake vaccines, are actively taking advantage of the distress caused by COVID-19 to enrich themselves on the backs of the sick.

“They sell masks, antibacterial gel and even, more alarmingly, COVID tests or vaccines to fight the virus”, so many products of questionable quality or which will never be delivered, explains to AFP Sandra Garcia, a Mexico cyberpolice officer.

These offers, which she says are being made through websites with domain names in Mexico and abroad, are increasing as the crisis spreads.

Mexico is going through its most critical month since the start of the epidemic, paying for the consequences of the slackening of the population at the end of the year, which brought the number of deaths to 153,000 and the number of infections to 1 , 8 million in this country of 126 million inhabitants.

The situation is particularly critical in the capital, where the occupancy rate of hospitals has reached 90% and where non-essential activities have been suspended since December 18.

Fake vaccines online

The country launched its vaccination plan on Dec. 24, starting with healthcare workers, a government-run process that relied on the US-German pharmaceutical duo Pfizer-BioNTech.

But on the discussion groups of the social network Telegram, as AFP observed, supposed vaccines apparently coming from these same laboratories are offered for sale online.

The same goes for vaccines whose packaging mentions the American company Moderna and the British AstraZeneca for prices ranging from 110 to 180 dollars.

To place an order, the “pigeon” is asked to open a link to a private conversation with an entity whose profile photo shows a man and two smiling young girls against the backdrop of a bucolic landscape.

The “cybercriminals” thus seek “to obtain passwords, usernames, telephone numbers, access codes or to receive money by the means of advance payments for a product which does not exist. not and, once their objective is reached, they no longer respond or prevent citizens from contacting them, ”warns the management of the cyberpolice of the capital since the beginning of January.

Mexico’s health authority, Cofepris, also warns against the “illegal sale” of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

For its part, Interpol in December revealed in a global alert the existence of 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illegal drugs and medical devices.

Out of oxygen

In Mexico City, the Attorney General’s office as well as the NGO “Citizen’s Council for Security and Justice” received a total of 26 complaints about attempts to sell vaccines and fraud in the purchase of oxygen tanks. since the end of 2020, when cases of contamination exploded in the capital.

“But the real number of complainants is much higher,” Salvador Guerrero, president of the NGO, told AFP.

Authorities in the states of Quintana Roo (east), Guerrero (south), Puebla (center) and Sonora (north-west) have also denounced the existence of scammers who sell and administer vaccines. Cofepris did not react to these allegations.

These criminals “are part of gangs, sometimes composed of members of the same family, which use scenarios to deceive people”, adds Salvador Guerrero.

With oxygen demand increasing 700% in December, the shortage set in and speculation on selling prices began.

Aracely Becerril, a 42-year-old housewife who lives in the south of the capital, has been the victim of these scammers.

A few weeks ago, her brother, who has COVID-19, needed oxygen. She urgently contacted a so-called company via offering a canister for 461 USD and which made it a condition to communicate only through the platform’s instant messaging service.

The young woman then deposited the money in the communicated bank account, while apprehending a scam.

“I was desperate. These bullies took advantage ”, laments Aracely who has never been able to contact his scammers.

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