Organised crime gangs are expected to produce fake Covid-19 vaccines and steal supplies as countries embark on mass immunisation campaigns, global police organisation Interpol said.
The alert came after the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, with other countries and drugs expected to follow soon.
Interpol said that the programmes could provide lucrative opportunities for criminals seeking to tap into the rush for vaccines with faked versions and online scams.
Organised crime has already profited from the pandemic by exploiting global demand for personal protective equipment and consumers searching online for testing kits.
Interpol said the pandemic had “triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory” criminal behaviour, including the advertising and sale of fake vaccines.
It said that police and regulatory bodies had to be ready for an onslaught of criminal activity connected to the global launch of vaccines.
“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains," said Interpol head Jurgen Stock.
“Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.”
Interpol, which is based in Lyon, France, also warned of a possible rise in the online sale of substandard testing kits as international travel gradually resumes.
“To avoid falling victim to online scams, it is important to be vigilant, be sceptical and be safe, as offers which appear too good to be true usually are,” it said.
An analysis by its cybercrime unit revealed that more than half of the online pharmacies suspected to be selling illicit medicine were also connected to malicious software and spamming that could target unsuspecting buyers in further frauds.
Interpol in April said that cybercriminals had increased their efforts to exploit the pandemic by locking hospitals out of their computers unless they pay large ransom payments. It identified a significant increase in attempted ransomware attacks against key organisations involved in the virus response.
Ransomware stops organisations from accessing vital files until they pay a ransom – usually in bitcoin – in return for a key to unlock their systems.