Throughout the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been individuals exploiting fear and uncertainty in order to make profit.
This has been evident through advertisements of counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing kits online. Just last week, a British man was sentenced for pocketing approximately £12,000 selling bogus coronavirus treatment kits online to victims in the UK, USA and France. Such scams are not only costly, but can also be extremely dangerous, as the kits contained a number of chemicals including a substance unknown to police. This is also true of unregulated PPE and testing kits, which could do more harm than good.
However, when advertisements appear legitimate, how can consumers spot the difference? This article will outline the approved goods available online and offer practical advice to avoid purchasing counterfeit supplies.
Face masks have been found to reduce the transmission of coronavirus by suppressing particles which are exhaled through coughs, sneezes or breath, and as such, are now mandatory in shops and on public transport in Scotland. While there was initially a shortage of PPE at the start of the pandemic, there are now many single-use and reusable masks available to purchase. However, according to the Independent, a high number of face masks on the online market are manufactured in environments not conducive to European health and safety legislation, with some going as far to forge “CE” certification stamps. This is of particular concern to medical professionals as counterfeit PPE is unlikely to contain correct materials or be manufactured in sterile environments.
Counterfeit Testing Kits
In May, a range of antibody tests became available to purchase online which can determine whether the user has ever previously had coronavirus. Nonetheless, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulation Agency (MHRA) emphasises that there are currently no legal tests which can diagnose coronavirus at home. As such, medical supplies undergo extensive assessment before they can be made available to the public. If you do see any home-testing kits advertised online, they are either illegal or counterfeit and should be avoided at all costs.
consumeradvice.scot have put together our top tips for avoiding counterfeit PPE and testing kits online:
1) Be cautious when buying from an unfamiliar retailer – If you have received direct advertisements from someone claiming to be from an organisation such as WHO, be sure to verify the email address before clicking on any links, as this could be a scam.
2) Be careful with your payment method – If you purchase supplies online through bank transfer, you will be unprotected if there is a problem with the sale. Instead, ensure you use a trusted service such as PayPal or a secure credit/debit card payment page.
3) If it seems too good to be true, it likely is – After months of anxiety and panic, we would all like a quick fix to the ongoing pandemic. However, there are teams of professionals worldwide dedicated to find a vaccine for the virus, and it will be far safer to wait for that moment.
4) Install Vistalworks’ free browser plug-in – Vistalworks have developed an online tool to prevent consumers accidentally purchasing illicit or counterfeit goods. Their new Chrome browser plug-in checks any eBay UK listing in over 16,000 categories.
5) Report any suspicions to consumeradvice.scot – If you believe you may have fallen victim to a scam, contact an advisor at consumeradvice.scot. We can pass cases on to Trading Standards Scotland where they warrant further investigation and will be able to offer practical and relevant advice for consumer related issues.
For more information on issues directly linked to COVID-19, you can visit our dedicated website at: www.coronavirusadvice.scot
consumeradvice.scot and advice.scot are able to offer free and practical advice on a number of issues. You can contact consumeradvice.scot on 0808 164 6000. advice.scot can be contacted on 0808 800 9060.
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