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Fake drugs to “cure the coronavirus” are sold by the kilos on the Internet

Arbidol, hydroxychloroquine, and faviparir are the three antivirals that are most fraudulently promoted on social networks and websites like Alibaba

In recent weeks, the Internet has been filled with publications offering drugs to “cure and protect from the coronavirus,” despite the fact that official agencies have not yet approved any specific remedy to cure it. The sale of counterfeit health products has exploded, especially on social networks, where 58% of the supply of these substances is found. They can also be found on e-commerce platforms such as Ebay and, especially, Alibaba, according to a study carried out by the company Smart Protection, which is collaborating with European organizations to detect counterfeit medicines and health products in high demand.

These platforms offer the possibility of easily acquiring medicines that should only be available by prescription from legal pharmacies. “But in reality what they are selling is a counterfeit medicine, without the correct active ingredient or even with adulterated or toxic active ingredients for health, but with the appearance and packaging of the authorized medicine that it imitates”, alerts the Organization of Consumers and Users. The Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products and the European Medicines Agency have also warned about the danger of buying these counterfeit medicines.

Still, sales have increased in the countries worst hit by the pandemic. In March, online sales platforms in China grabbed the largest number of new sellers to date. “They are, for the most part, scammers who target a specific audience and promote their articles with labels directly related to the coronavirus crisis,” explains Smart Protection. On March 23, the day Boris Johnson decreed confinement in the UK, the supply of illegal drugs on Ebay doubled.

The star substances in this illegal online business are arbidol, hydroxychloroquine and faviparir. Appealing to its alleged effects to alleviate Covid-19, these three antivirals are the ones that are most fraudulently promoted on the Internet, mainly on the Alibaba platform, according to Smart Protection. The company has monitored 13 drugs in total, in addition to tests to detect Covid-19 and medical supplies such as masks.

In most cases, a simple search with the product name leads to hundreds of offers where users can buy even by the pound. However, the use of codes to locate medications has also been extended. Specific keywords are used in order to avoid the control mechanisms established by the platforms themselves. For example, the code 155213-67-5 is used as a keyword to locate ritonavir and 1.809249-37-3 corresponds to remdesivir. Other keywords are also used to refer to the coronavirus, such as “Korona Virus”, “Wuhan Virus” or “Corona 19”.

The market on social media is slightly different. Profiles that offer fake drugs have been created recently (they are one or two weeks old) and offer links to buy products that lead to fraudulent pages. “They post a post telling about the benefits of the medicine and direct you to a URL where they ask for personal and bank details,”.

In the past few weeks, his company has found that many Instagram posts that sell and promote some of the monitored medications, especially arbidol and favilavir, are being removed. “Many accounts have been created from the name of the masks” KN95 / FFP2 / N95 “, which, although with few followers, have managed to create up to 463,000 contents on this social network,” explains the company. By type of product, Twitter is the network with the largest number of publications that offer active ingredients, while Instagram is for masks and diagnostic tests.

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