Bogus COVID-19 test results, fraudulent vaccination cards, and questionable vaccines are emerging a hot commodity on the dark web in what's the latest in a long list of cybercrimes capitalizing on the coronavirus pandemic.
"A new and troubling phenomenon is that consumers are buying COVID-19 vaccines on the black market due to the increased demand around the world," said Anne An, a senior security researcher at McAfee's Advanced Programs Group (APG). "As a result, illegal COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination records are in high demand on darknet marketplaces."
The growing demand and the race towards achieving herd immunity means at least a dozen underground marketplaces are peddling COVID-19 related merchandise, with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines purchasable for $500 per dose from top-selling vendors who rely on services like Wickr, Telegram, WhatsApp, and Gmail for advertising and communications.
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Darknet listings for the supposed vaccines are being sold for anywhere between $600 to $2,500, enabling prospective buyers to receive the product within two to 10 days. A second vendor has been identified as selling 10 doses of what's purportedly Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for $2,000. The vaccines are said to be either imported from the U.S. or packed in the U.K. and then shipped to other countries worldwide.
What's more, fake vaccination cards allegedly issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are available starting for $50 and going all the way to $1,500. Likewise, another unnamed seller on a different dark web market is offering counterfeit German COVID-19 certificates for a mere $22.35.
This is not an isolated case. Earlier this March, American-Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point made public details of a hacking forum promoting the sales of COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine certificates at a discount from fraudsters based in the U.S. and European countries such as Spain, Germany, France, and Russia.
Fake negative COVID-19 test results and vaccine passport certificates are being sold for $25 and $250 respectively, with darknet ads for COVID-19 vaccines surging by over 300% to surpass 1,200 in number in the first three months of 2021, the company said.
"A negative COVID test result or a vaccination certificate is becoming the golden key that will unlock restrictions and enable people to move and mingle with greater freedom," Check Point researchers explained. "And of course, this creates an opportunity for criminals and scammers to exploit those people who are willing to risk using fake documents to achieve that freedom."
The rise of an illicit economy for fake vaccination and test certificates has prompted the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to issue a warning, stating that those involved in buying or selling fake vaccination record cards would not only endanger other citizens at risk of contracting COVID-19, but also violate the law for unauthorized use of an official government agency's seal like the Health Department (HHS) or CDC.
"The underground economy cycle continues as demand creates inventory, which in turn creates supply," An said. "In addition to selling COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination cards, and fake test results, cybercriminals can also benefit by reselling the names, dates of birth, home addresses, contact details, and other personally indefinable information of their customers."