Imposters! Crime in the time of COVID-19 targets the life sciences industry

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the economy was almost at a standstill, many of the side-effect predictions made by professional, common-sense economists turned out to be true: scalpers shifted their focus from concert tickets to hand sanitizers, and prices soared in line with the dollar amount of the CARES Act first disbursement.

While many of these scams were aimed at the general public, the scammers also leaned into sources that would naturally be on hand due to demand, such as medical device manufacturers, research providers and other market players. the life sciences industry.

Jail Phone Scam Picks On AbbVie

November 2021 saw the conviction of a Georgia prison inmate for a fraudulent resale setup he started in 2019 posing as a representative of a biopharmaceutical company AbbVie under the pseudonym “Morgan Sylvia”. Using a number of smuggled cell phones and a bit of trickery, Damon Thomas Young secretly placed orders for an assortment of heavy machinery and construction equipment for the fictional foundation of a new manufacturing plant in rural Georgia. .

“To call this large-scale fraud scheme brazen is probably an understatement,” federal prosecutors wrote of the scam in a court filing. While only around $500,000 worth of equipment was actually obtained through the operation and ultimately recovered, the grand total of all fraudulent orders was around $2.8 million.

The equipment included dump trucks, a horizontal grinder, an excavator, and wheel and skid steer loaders, ordered from six different machine dealers and financed by loans. Most fraudulent orders were discovered before shipping, while the contents of the rest funded the purchase of two Chevrolet work trucks via resale to unsuspecting buyers on Craigslist.

A supposed project to build a well-positioned industry seems to have been a convenient way to take advantage of the bureaucratic and empathetic whirlwind that marked the early days of the pandemic. However, this is far from the only case of criminal intent targeting bioindustries in recent years.

Newspapers ripped off by fake publishers

Industry professionals have also been the direct targets of dishonesty, as cases of fraudulent submissions of articles to special issues of various journals have continued to rise in many scientific fields. These scams vary in complexity, but they all have the same end goal of getting a bogus research or review article printed in a credible journal.

In one case, a scammer posing as a reputable scientist cunning appointment as guest editor of The Scientific World Review for a special issue on metaheuristics in 2016. An investigation revealed several peer review reports from the compromised email accounts of other researchers in an elaborate effort to fabricate the authenticity of the pseudo-articles. More recently, however, scientific publishing giants like Springer Nature and Elsevier have come under increasing scrutiny from organized scam groups attempting to push false reports.

As of September 2019, the editors of Springer Nature were victim by one of these groups posing as a group of computer scientists and engineers from Germany and the United Kingdom. They suggested “the role of nanotechnology in health care” as a special topic and got the opportunity to manage the submitted manuscripts. Questionable peer review reports approved submissions that did not fit the special issue’s topic as well as generally poor quality articles, for a total of 80 bogus articles. Luckily, only 19 of them made it to production and have since been retracted.

Then, in April 2021, a group of IT people started noticing sentences with strange words that they would later double “tortured sentences”, which seemed to indicate the use of software for disguising plagiarism or machine translation. Closer examination revealed reliability issues for hundreds of articles in several special issues; however, the majority of them were released from February 2021, with a noticeable spike again coinciding with the early months of the pandemic.

The motivations of these esoteric-oriented scammers remain indistinct: if the goal was to flesh out one’s resume with articles printed by top-tier publications, why do so many titles make little or no sense? Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse in France who has been involved in such investigations, suggested the motive may relate to quota requirements that cause researchers to continuously publish papers in order to keep their jobs. He added that while the papers are clearly nonsense, these attempts could allow researchers “to get publications for their CVs and a green card to stay in academia.”

For now, scholarly publishers on all sides are taking note, reassessing their approaches to special issue publications as well as their editorial review processes to identify systematic weaknesses and prevent fraudulent attempts to circumvent the submission system. in the future.

Moderna, Regeneron Fake Websites

Naturally, among snake oils and home remedies would be counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

As of December 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland grasped two website domains whose names hinted at an association with Modern and Regenerate. These deceptive sites appear to have been designed to collect visitors’ personal information in order to reuse it for use in other forms of cybercrime such as phishing attacks or identity theft.

A similar program involved the creation of an online storefront posing as Moderna that offered visitors the potential opportunity to pre-purchase doses of vaccine in exchange for filling out a contact details form. A potential victim would be contacted by the fraudsters via email and possibly asked to make their payments by wire transfer to a specified bank account.

Officials continue to stress the importance of cybersecurity awareness, urging Americans to stay alert to email scams, suspicious links and requests for personal information. Additional resources and information on COVID-19 scams are kept up to date in line by the Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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