PPE fraud: ‘It’s coming out of mainly China and Taiwan’, says cyber-security expert
The wretched sting of sub-standard PPE arriving in the UK from overseas is taking place at the distribution stage and not the manufacturing stage, according to a Cambourne-based cyber security company.
The Home Office has issued a release to freight forwarders stating that they have identified growing trends in potential counterfeit goods exploiting Covid-19. So far an estimated £800,000 has been lost to fraud-related face masks - but that’s just what we know about.
Speaking to the Cambridge Independent, Rick Fuller, head of Europe, Cryptoloc said of PPE fraud: “It’s coming out of mainly China and Taiwan. We and various customs agencies have identified that it’s not the manufacturers, it’s distributors in China and Taiwan bulking up the order with products that are counterfeit or don’t meet the standards required for Covid-19 protection.”
The NHS is dealing with distributors?
“The NHS doesn’t deal with the manufacturer, they go via a distributor,” said Rick. “The distributors have increased buying power and discounts, and the makers want to sell to a distributor because the distributor makes the deals and organises the returns.
“If the maker is out of stock, the distributor goes to a non-approved maker - they cut corners because they want to keep the NHS’ business. Some would meet the standard for Covid-19 test but hasn’t been tested properly, others wouldn’tmeet the standard.
“In the worst-case scenario the NHS doesn’t know the products are sub-standard and that could cost lives, such as if a faulty respirator is involved.
“The better scenario is that the counterfeit makes it to the UK but someone finds it’s fake and sends it back but the major risk in the UK is PPE equipment and that’s a problem.”
It’s also expensive, and the cost is borne in the UK.
“It takes a shipping container eight weeks to get to the UK from China,” Rick notes, “and the NHS has to pay for that - around £250,000 per shipment. The alternative is flights, but air freight involves huge expense and that’s a waste.”
The company, which is headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, has developed a product to help combat the distribution of counterfeit Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), by ensuring products are not tampered with during any stage of the supply chain.
Cryptoloc’s security works by applying a patented, scannable QA code - an enhanced QR code developed by the company - containing both product information and the batch code, which is attached to products. Each code uses dual RSA 2048 and AES 256 encryption, meaning they cannot be copied or altered. If they are tampered with in any way an alert is triggered. Customs agents and hospitals can therefore verify the PPE meets all the required standards, simply by scanning the code using a free smartphone app for iOS and Android.
“Our QA label, which can be added to individual boxes or entire containers, has been designed to provide reassurance that no counterfeit goods can slip their way into the shipment undetected,” notes Rick.
“It is only a matter of time before counterfeit PPE ultimately ends up in a hospital and it is absolutely vital that more is done to protect both the NHS and the public and prevent this from happening. The consequences of PPE entering the NHS supply chain could be catastrophic, leading at best to dangerous delays with procuring replacement items if the counterfeits are detected, and at worst resulting in deaths.
“We’ve keen to offer this solution to governments across the globe immediately. To help facilitate this we have set up a 24-hour Covid-19 response team who can arrange rapid implementations.
“Today, we invite relevant government bodies to contact us for assistance as soon as possible - there has never been a more health-critical time to implement such a product and we are on standby provide rapid help.”