COVID-19 Pandemic turns into mother of Billion-Dollar eerie 'Plandemic'!
TIOL - COB( WEB) - 771
JULY 08, 2021
By Shailendra Kumar, Founder Editor
ALTHOUGH the Second Wave of COVID-19 appears to be going through a cycle of waxing and waning in many parts of the world but there is hardly any pause in the eerily silent decimation of human lives - Over 8000 souls a day! For many experts, the sustained lockdowns have remarkably emaciated the gorilla-sized 'Dragon' by denying access to new human hosts! To an extent, the heads of governments like Mr Boris Johnson and Mr Joe Biden may relish the joy of taming the 'beast' but let's not forget that the 'Independence from virus' is still far off! The lack of food may enervate it in the short-run but it still remains a Komodo Dragon! And it has an acute inherent dislike for 'attention recession'! In weeks, it may bounce back with a New Wave and, of course, new variants like Delta Plus and Lambda, only to spoil the cosy wintry months. And the chill of the Third Wave-in-the-making is indeed palpable much before its arrival!
Even before people are smitten by the sky-is-falling forecast or ice-feeling-the-heat forewarning, a different hue of 'pandemic' has gripped governments across the world - Let's call it 'Plandemic' or 'Scamdemic'! Every crisis which wallops societies, also carries with it a trolley of opportunities for both - 'Benign' and 'Malign' souls! As against the benign ones who offer their shoulders to cushion the pathogen-struck or grief-stricken families, malign ones tend to work in lockstep to make a colossal bonfire of taxpayers' money or prey on medical emergencies of luckless souls or simply palm off fake and concocted vials as authentic vaccines and vaccine certificates. I am not referring to the latest ransomware pandemic which has paralysed hundreds of businesses in many countries as they are not necessarily linked to COVID-19. I intend to elaborate on strictly COVID-19 related cases of fraud which have assumed proportions of a worldwide 'Plandemic'.
Though COVID-19-related scams are being reported from every corner of the world economy but notable ones are largely from the affluent countries which fulsomely indulged in an exercise of fiscal elitism and cringeworthy flattery of small businesses! United Kingdom stands out in the rich club of countries which unfolded billion-dollar relief package to cushion the kinky graph of shrinking economic activities. The Boris Johnson Government had last year announced several schemes to support the businesses. The Bounce Back Loan Scheme was unwrapped last May to permit banks to lend businesses up to 50,000 pounds with 100% state guarantee and a repayment period of nine years. This was to relieve the pain of lockdowns for small businesses. However, after a year, the generosity of the Exchequer has yielded space for extreme curiosity by the Public Accounts Committee which has, in its latest report, noted that 35 to 60 per cent of loans may not be repaid because of fraud and credit issues, amounting to up to 27 billion pounds! The Scheme was unabashedly littered with too many flubs! And the precious time is now lost to slam the brake on its growing abuse! All hopes for a decent recovery may prove forlorn!
The UK Government had also unveiled a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or Furlough Scheme. This was to preserve jobs and businesses. The Scheme provided up to 80% of a worker's wages. A related Self-Employment Income Support Scheme was also introduced. Till last month, over 61 billion pound was claimed, cushioning over 11 million jobs. It has now been dug out that the benefit was trousered for a large number of 'ghost' workers who were never on the pay-rolls. An eye-watering number of workers were working full-time but were hand-in-glove to share the 'booty' with their employers! And the overall magnitude of the frauds is Olympics-sized - over 60 billion pounds! The British banks have already hired over 750 debt collection experts and organised bootcamps to recover USD 104 billion state-backed emergency loans whose payback time has come tantalisingly close! Internal studies of the bankers have given them insight that a decent swathe of borrowers have spent the loans on affording a 'barbecue time'! However, some borrowers have also complained that bankers have approached them for repayment even though the due date is far off! It is indeed going to be a long-drawn battle for the Government, bankers and borrowers who may be coerced to repay even before the pandemic is over - probably, thanks to the rising speculation over industrial-scale defaults!
Let's swim across the Atlantic! The American Justice Department recently announced that close to 500 people have been charged for fraud schemes worth close to USD 500 million in COVID-19 relief. Over 100 of these had fraudulently obtained funds from the Paycheck Protection Program tailored to help small businesses. One fraudster obtained about USD 25 million by applying for 15 different PPP loans from eight different lenders and 11 companies. And, being driven by jijivisha (desire to live life to the fullest), he used the proceeds to purchase multiple luxury homes, expensive cars like Bentley convertible, Porsche Macan and Corvette Stingray and precious jewellery! Any guess about his lineage? Undoubtedly, he is to be credited for creating a papier mâché facade of business trauma? He is an Indian-American from Texas! Had he been in India it would have taken years for our system to track him down! But his lady luck deserted him as soon as an audit exercise commenced. FDA has also warned Americans about unauthorised fraudulent COVID-19 test kits being sold online. The US has set up a Task Force to track down all sorts of fraudsters trying to profit from the pandemic by selling unproven and illegally marketed products by making fake claims! Though enforcement agencies are on the toes of such fraudsters but con artists are no less ingenuous in stealing money from unsuspecting Americans by grabbing their stimulus cheques and unemployment benefits, fraudulent charities and fake treatments for Coronavirus!
The story from Germany is no less fascinating. It has all the ingredients to produce goosebumps for government procurement agencies worldwide. The most populous state of Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, urgently needed PPEs to protect its health workers. Thus it granted waiver of all safety protocols followed for normal procurements. Through its online interactions with some cyber buccaneers, it placed the order for 10 million masks worth USD 26 million. It also made some advance payments to a bunch of cloned websites registered in Spain with an intermediary in Ireland and a supply firm in the Netherlands. The charlatans were so skilled that they had cloned genuine firms and had a saloon passage to success - 10 million Euros were deposited in their account. When 50 trucks were lined up to freight the sham masks from the Netherlands, their ruse was uncorked by a silly error - they demanded additional payment before releasing the consignments. The authorities immediately moved the Interpol which in turn managed to get the money frozen in Ireland before part of the sum was about to be funnelled out to Nigeria.
Ransomware attack may now have become common for a good number of American and European businesses but it was a ghastly and also ghostly experience for the Czech Republic's one of largest medical facilities on the night of 12th March. It was 'benighted' by a ransomware assault. Urgent surgical operations had to be postponed and COVID-19 patients had to be relocated. Several hospitals have experienced similar attacks since the start of the pandemic, says Interpol. Off from Europe, fraudsters had cosy stroll to success when they binged on unsuspecting common men in South Africa. They physically collected banknotes by knocking at doors of people if they had COVID-19-contaminated currencies to be returned to their central bank. Sale of counterfeit drugs is apparently less attractive option when there are so many lucrative windows open to be harnessed by tricksters.
The latest window to be exploited by organised syndicates of cyber bandits is to offer fake vaccine certificates for easy travel across continents. Italian Police last Saturday smashed many such online outlets offering to sell fake EU Digital COVID-19 vaccine certificates. The EU had launched such a scheme only last Thursday and fake websites had registered over 2.5 lakh users. The certificate costing about USD 150 also had QR Code proving vaccination and testing negative for COVID-19. A similar stampede was recorded as soon as Moscow Mayor notified vaccination as compulsory for service-sector employees. Over 500 new domain names were registered in June month alone, to provide fake vaccine certificates. As soon as the ambit of mandatory vaccination was extended to restaurants and bars, most Muscovites who fall in the category of anti-vaxxers, rushed to buy fake certificates. It was indeed a delightful commerce for con men as authorities had failed to introduce QR Code.
Back home in India, it is not vaccine certificate but the vaccine itself which has been grabbing headlines. Fake vaccine or saline water turned out to be elixir to abnormal profits for some crooks in Mumbai, Kolkata and many other cities where fake doctors and their accomplices organised camps in certain societies and collected cash against carcasses of fake vials. With too many arms being offered for jabs, over 12 such sham camps were reportedly organised in Mumbai alone! During the peak of the Second Wave, a large number of befuddled people were duped in the name of providing oxygen cylinders, drugs and injections like Remdesivir. The Delhi Police has identified over 200 mobile numbers and took steps to freeze 95 bank accounts. It has also registered 133 FIRs for frauds committed against COVID-19 patients and their kin.
Against the silhouette of rising mountains of cyber and financial frauds, it would be naive to rule out an uptick in corporate frauds as a result of the pandemic! With small, medium and large corporates confronting the dichotomous spectacle of death & survival, large-scale manipulation of books of accounts is a live threat for regulators across the world. Survival is after all a searing horseplay. And perishing of COVID-19 certainly makes no horse sense if horselaugh is to be reckoned as emblematic of survival of the fittest - thank you, Mr Darwin! Government of India is indeed lucky that it did not announce too many loosely-designed economic stimulus schemes (may be because of lack of resources at its command, no pun intended!). Or, Indian businesses, usually turbo-charged for frauds as a matter of pedestrian habits, would have scored billion-mark in no time if NPA trend is an indicator to go by! Sometimes, not creating whoops and hollers by announcing new but porous schemes is also a priceless virtue! Undoubtedly, for humanity, it is going to be a pyrrhic victory against COVID-19 (Am I wool-gathering?) which itself is seen as the 'biggest fraud of the century' or a hoax palmed off by China!