Global policymakers are scrambling to combat con artists promising miracle cures and a rash of profiteers taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to inflate prices.
Cynical peddlers of panaceas are a hallmark of epidemics throughout history. The English novelist Daniel Defoe condemned the “quacks and mountebanks” promising “anti-pestilential pills” in his well-researched account of Londons 17th century bubonic plague.
Almost four centuries later, many of the scams are unchanged, ranging from canisters of supposedly protective “corona spray” and fake facemasks made from bra cups. There are, however, now armies of competition regulators, fraud squads and consumer watchdogs to tackle the problem.
On Thursday, the European Commission announced it was working with national authorities to act against online sales of fake products while, on the same day, Interpol seized more than 34,000 items such as counterfeit masks and anti-corona sprays.
The European anti-fraud office OLAF last week launched an inquiry into imports of fake products. Counterfeit products such as fake masks for children were often sold online and enter Europe through postal service or in containers with fake certificates, OLAF warned. On Monday, the OECD and the EUs intellectual property agency EUIPO will release a report on illicit trade in fake pharmaceuticals.
A production chain of hydroalcoholic solution in Plouedern, northwestern France | Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images
Italy, which is now the hardest-hit country in the world, has been among the first to probe coronavirus scams.
When the virus started to spread in the north of the country at the end of February, online prices for hand sanitizers and masks skyrocketed, as later happened in many other countries. The Italian competition authority launched an investigation to check whether online platforms Amazon and eBay did enough to remove such listings from outside retailers.
The watchdog also shut down a website selling an HIV anti-viral drug for €634.44 a dose, claiming it to be the “only remedy” against coronavirus. The website www.farmacocoronavirus.it was registered on February 27, less than a week after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Italy.
On Tuesday, the French health authority stopped online sales of paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin to stop people and resellers from hoarding.
Sharks emptying the shelves
But scams are also widespread in the brick-and-mortar world.
On a daily basis, Italys anti-fraud police confiscates thousands of masks and sanitizing products, some of which are sometimes sold at six times the normal price and do not comply with basic sanitary standards. A tragicomic example comes from Foggia, in southern Italy, where homemade face masks were crafted by stitching together an elastic strap and a bra cup.
In Britain, a lawmaker from the ruling Conservative party, Alexander Stafford, noted that some supply shortages in goods were not pure panic buying but the work of deliberate price manipulators, and called for emergency action from the prime minister. “These black-market profiteers need to be stamped out and shown that their actions are not only hurting innocent people, but also go against everything that Britain stands for,” he said.
In France, the anti-fraud bureau of the economy ministry warned that “scams on the part of malicious companies and individuals have multiplied” and, earlier this month, Frances Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire announced its ministry would take action against mushrooming cases of fraud. The French government even adopted a decree fixing the price for sanitizing gel.
“These issues are monitored very closely on a daily basis,” the President of French competition authority Isabelle de Silva said in an e-mailed statement, adding that other European competition authorities including the Italian one are doing the same.
Its a continent-wide problem. Latvia fired a warning shot that businesses should “act in good faith” after noticing a “sudden increase of prices for certain goods observed in retail.” Skaidrīte Ābrama, Read More – Source