Paxlovid China Cyber Scams Are Everywhere
Similar scams are, perhaps unsurprisingly, incredibly prevalent in China right now, and in the days following my messages with Jin, I spoke with several Chinese people who got caught up in scams after researching Paxlovid on social networks.
Liao, a Chinese woman from Shenzhen who asked that we only use her last name, was in despair when her father, a 54-year-old man with pre-existing conditions, was admitted to hospital with covid on December 28 and was almost passed out the next day. When the doctor suggested Paxlovid but told her the hospital was out of it, she took to popular social media platform Xiaohongshu to post her plea for help.
Soon people started texting him saying they could sell him Paxlovid. One account claimed they had the Pfizer version (as opposed to the generic version produced in other countries) and could ship the drug the same day. She paid the asking price of 3,600 yuan (about $530) without hesitation.
Yet the promised medicine never came, and the account she later paid for was deactivated. She reported it to the police, but was told the chances of getting her money back were slim. Fortunately, Liao’s father has stabilized and no longer needs medicine.
Liao is not the only victim. Another person who lives in Hubei tells me that she met a scammer on Weibo and has since found out that he cheated at least 30 people out of nearly $30,000. The victims have formed a group chat to coordinate what they can do, and the scammer’s account remains active on Weibo despite being reported multiple times. He still posts pictures of Paxlovid, looking for new targets.
Even those who are lucky enough to find sellers who are not scammers still have to deal with other forms of deception, such as counterfeit drugs and theft (since the packaging bears the drug’s name). And some people have turned to generic alternatives to Paxlovid, like Primovir or Paxista, which are made by Indian pharmaceutical companies and whose effectiveness is questionable; some labs in China have examined samples of these generic drugs and found no effective ingredients.
It was the immense challenges in accessing Paxlovid in the first place that made all this fraudulent activity possible. Many Chinese people are scared and anxious, and some probably overemphasized Paxlovid’s power. Most of them don’t know who should take Paxlovid or how to take it safely, but they just try to find anything that might help a little.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that scammers have taken advantage of desperate individuals; online scammers are always ready, in China and elsewhere, to take advantage of fears and emergencies. But questions remain about whether social media platforms like Twitter and Weibo are doing enough to limit such activity and regain user trust.