Police in the south Indian city of Hyderabad arrested a man on July 20 for scamming more than 200 people by posing as a COVID-19 plasma donor.
Plasma contains antibodies and can be used in convalescent therapy to treat severe cases. There have been multiple reports recently, some from Hyderabad itself, about scammers trying to take advantage of a shortage of donors at India’s plasma banks.
Sandeep Reddy, 25, a resident of the Srikakulam district of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, pretended to have recovered from COVID-19. According to the police, he realised the desperate demand for plasma donors and COVID-19 drugs, both of which are in short supply across India.
Reddy posed as a plasma donor and medicine supplier on social media, hoodwinking vulnerable families by claiming he had recovered from COVID-19 and was eligible for donating plasma. In some cases, he would pretend to sell antiviral drugs or the Tocilizumab 400 mg injection. The short supply of COVID-19 medications in India has led to them being sold on the black market.
A COVID-19 patient is eligible to be a plasma donor 28 days after they have fully recovered. They are also encouraged to donate plasma every two weeks. Though many Indian states like Delhi, West Bengal and Kerala have set up plasma banks, there is a shortage of donors despite the country’s high recovery rate.
Experts attribute this to the stigma attached to the novel coronavirus, and recovered patients being afraid to revisit hospitals and risk catching the infection. This has led to a black market of plasma donations that go for rates as high as INR 300,000 ($4,020) for 400 ml.
It is common for social media users to post on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter declaring their urgent need for plasma donations. A 1996 ruling by the Supreme Court outlawed unlicensed blood banks and donors in the country; India’s 2007 National Blood Policy prohibits the sale and trade of plasma.
Reddy targeted families who urgently needed plasma by first asking them to shell out about INR 5,000 ($67) for his travel expenses. Once the transfer was done, Reddy would not show up as promised and would often try to wrangle more money from them.
Since the people he duped were busy taking care of their ailing family members, they did not file police complaints. Instead, a number of people posted about such instances on Twitter, and tagged the Hyderabad Police’s cyber crime department.
According to a statement by Hyderabad’s Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police G Chakravarthy, Reddy was recently released from jail, where he was doing time for two thefts in the south Indian city of Visakhapatnam. Though Reddy completed a course in computer hardware networking, his unemployment pushed him to resort to thefts and scams.
But Reddy isn’t the only one taking advantage of the uncertainty to earn a quick buck.
In June, a man named Abdul Karim alias Rahul Thakur was caught for scamming the Assembly Speaker of the national capital city Delhi. He followed a similar Modus Operandi to Reddy’s: contacting families in need, and disappearing or switching numbers after they had transferred a nominal amount.
As early as February, a 27-year-old photographer in Hyderabad was caught trying to cheat people and reportedly collected at least INR 50,000 ($670) under the pretence of creating a network of plasma donors.
On July 17, a list of plasma donors going viral on social media in Hyderabad was revealed as fake. Another blood donors’ list from 2015 was mistakenly shared by social media users in Mumbai and Delhi over the last few days.
With 4,02,529 active cases and more than 7,24,577 recoveries, India has a recovery rate of 62.72 percent, according to the Health Ministry. India is currently the third worst-affected country when it comes to COVID-19, with a total 1,155,191 confirmed cases and 28,084 casualties.
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