Italian police uncover online coronavirus fraud

ROME (Reuters) - Fraudsters have taken advantage of the coronavirus crisis to ramp up prices of hygiene products or try to sell inappropriate materials, wrongly claiming they would provide protection from the disease, police said on Wednesday.

Italy is battling the worst European outbreak of the virus which has so far killed more than 100 people here, mainly in the north of the country, and infected more than 3,000 people.

Police said they had placed under investigation 36 people who had tried to take advantage of the widespread anxiety by misselling products online. Some 14 of them, considered the worst offenders, risked up to two years in jail for fraud.

"A kit that included just two masks, two pairs of gloves and a PVC suit was sold for 400 euros ($445)," Giovanni Lupi, who led the investigation in Turin, told Reuters.

He said on other occasions people had advertised products, such as herbal supplements, promising without any evidence that they would offer protection against the disease.

Amongst those under investigation were auto parts dealers, farmers, door-to-door salesmen who people who had no prior sales experience.

Costs of hygiene products have risen steeply in Italy since the crisis first came to light on Feb 20., with pharmacies and stores rapidly selling out of masks and gels.

Police last month warned that some criminals were disguising themselves as health inspectors and using fake identity papers to gain access to people's houses to steal money or other valuables.

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