British authorities are working to prevent the sale of fake coronavirus vaccines by fraudsters, it has emerged.
A National Crime Agency (NCA) official said that while the early stages of the pandemic saw criminal groups use personal protective equipment (PPE) scams to target businesses, vaccine fraud was the “emerging threat”.
Speaking at a webinar held by the Resilience First group, director general Graeme Biggar said: “The new emerging threat will be around vaccine fraud.
“We haven’t seen much of that yet but we absolutely expect when vaccines begin to roll out that there will be people offering fake vaccines. We are trying to get ahead of that trend now.”
Mr Biggar, who heads the NCA’s National Economic Crime Centre, said criminals were using coronavirus as a “hook” for different kinds of fraud.
As well as fake PPE and Covid-19 test kits, reports of fraud relating to online shopping, investments and romance have already increased during the pandemic.
People have also attempted to defraud government furlough schemes and relief for businesses.
The warning came after the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said cyberattacks by Russia and other hostile states present an “ongoing threat” to the UK’s work to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
Paul Chichester, the NCSC’s director of operations, said hostile states were focused on vaccine research, while criminal groups were also targeting hospitals and healthcare bodies.
“It’s an ongoing threat and it continues to date,” he told a press conference earlier this month.
“We know states are interested in a variety of elements of the vaccine work – the research behind it is part of that but also knowledge around the success, the trial data.
“It’s also about the likelihood of the supply chain being successful, and a variety of different elements of the vaccine as we move from doing the research to the delivery and supply of it.
“States are trying to understand how the UK is prepared for that.”
Two ongoing trials of potential coronavirus vaccines are ongoing in Britain – one developed by US biotechnology company Novavax and one by the University of Oxford.
Last week, Pfizer announced trials had found its jab to be more than 90 per cent effective at stopping people catching Covid-19.
The government has said that if approved, delivery of the vaccine from Belgium would not be affected by any delays caused by Brexit from 1 January.