OLAF launches inquiry into fake Covid-19 related products

The European Anti-Fraud Office says that the coronavirus has offered new opportunities for fraudsters to profit from high market demand for medical protection

Fake masks seized in the EU by Belgian Customs
Fake masks seized in the EU by Belgian Customs

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has launched an inquiry into the imports of fake products supposedly used in the fight against the Covid-19 epidemic.

These include masks, medical devices, disinfectants, sanitisers and test kits.

“Since the very beginning of the pandemic, OLAF has been collecting intelligence and information on this illicit trafficking… the coronavirus outbreak has regrettably offered new opportunities for fraudsters to profit from the high market demand for fake medical, personal protection, and hygiene products,” OLAF said in a statement on Friday.

OLAF is currently in contact with competent authorities in member states and third countries to prevent these products from entering Europe.

“Preventing these fake products from entering Europe is crucial to protect our health and fight effectively against the virus. On top of being ineffective against the virus, these products also fail to comply with EU standards, potentially damaging our health. For instance, they could provoke a dangerous bacterial contamination.

“Fraudsters are attracted by potentially huge illicit profits. They want to take advantage of our distress and of our need, sometimes desperate, for these products,” OLAF said.

The office said that counterfeit masks being offered online in various EU member states have been offered at prices ranging between €5 and €10, three times the normal market price.

“The empirical evidence suggests that these counterfeit products enter Europe through online sales and are brought into our homes via postal or courier services… they also arrive in containers with fake certificates or declared as other products before finding their way into the normal distribution channels.”

OLAF said that though a number of these products have been seized by Customs in various countries, others are being smuggled in suitcases of air passengers or through land borders.