Criminals raiding hospital waste to sell used coronavirus masks as police warn of boom in scams

Report by Europe’s police force, Europol, warns of a 'boom' in the sale of counterfeit masks

Volunteers distribute face masks and leaflets to commuters outside a metro station in Vincennes on the outskirts of the French capital Paris, on April 30, 2020, on the 45th day of a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 disease, caused by the novel coronavirus. French Prime Minister announced on April 28 that face masks will be compulsory on public transport as France will begin a gradual but "risky" return to normality on May 11. / AFP / Philippe LOPEZ

Criminals raiding hospital waste to sell used coronavirus masks on the blackmarket is a major threat in Europe, a new report has revealed.

Europe’s police force, Europol, says there has been a “boom” in the sale of counterfeit masks and medicines related to Covid-19 and new criminal sellers appear on a daily basis.

It is warning there will be an increase in counterfeit sales as more European countries make wearing masks in public compulsory.

But one of the major threats facing the continent is the trafficking of used Covid-19 hospital waste, it says in a specialist report focusing on coronavirus criminality in Europe.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a notable increase in the output of medical and sanitary waste across the EU,” it said.

“The trafficking and inadequate disposal of medical and sanitary waste is a notable crime risk.

“Both in terms of generating proceeds for the criminals involved in this activity and the potential associated harm to public health.”

It comes as Germany introduced compulsory mask wearing in public and the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted that masks will play a role in lifting its lockdown.

“Counterfeiters have already been among the biggest profiteers of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

“A recession may further stimulate demand for cheaper daily consumer goods, which may be met by organised crime groups (OCGs) offering counterfeit or substandard alternatives. Reduced consumer spending power may inspire counterfeiters to expand into further product lines

“Demand for and the scarcity of certain goods, especially healthcare products and equipment, is driving a significant portion of criminals’ activities in counterfeit and substandard goods, organised property crime and fraud. A potential economic recession may also stimulate social tolerance for these types of goods and their distribution.”

Its report looks at the impact of the pandemic on serious and organised crime and terrorism in the long term.

“Criminals trading in counterfeit pharmaceutical and healthcare products have been quick to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic and to adapt their product portfolios to exploit shortages of genuine products, the fear and anxieties of regular citizens,” it said.

“These OCGs have once again proven highly adaptable in terms of shifting product focus and offer new types of medical equipment, especially face masks, fake Corona test kits, disposable latex gloves, sanitisers and disinfectants.

"The trade of counterfeit and substandard goods especially those related to healthcare such as pharmaceuticals and equipment has boomed during the pandemic. As demand for these products remains very high, counterfeiters will continue to provide counterfeit and substandard versions of these goods across the EU.

"The introduction of the mandatory wearing of masks may even increase the supply of such counterfeit items.”

Shockingly it revealed that as the world battles to find a vaccine, which is not expected to be available for at least 18 months, criminals are selling fake vaccines online.

“Scammers are already offering versions of such a vaccine online,” it said.

“However, once the development of a genuine vaccine has been announced, it is expected that counterfeiters and fraudsters will invest heavily in offering ineffective counterfeits of this vaccine especially online via different platforms and on social media.”

Fake vaccines are being offered for almost £300 on the black market and include drugs which have previously been mentioned by President Donald Trump which have not been proven to be effective.