The world is currently undergoing one of the largest and most complex vaccination campaigns in history, and, not surprisingly, scammers and sellers on the dark web have been eager to make a profit off the process.
Kaspersky researchers examined 15 different marketplaces on the darknet and found advertisements for three major COVID vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna. There were also sellers advertising unverified COVID-19 vaccines.
Most sellers came France, Germany, the UK and the USA, and the prices per dose ranged from $250 to $1,200, with an average cost of about $500. Communications were made via encrypted messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram, while payments were requested in the form of cryptocurrency, primarily bitcoin.
Even if customers do receive something in the mail, most likely it would not be an effective, valid dose. More importantly, obtaining such doses is illegal, Kaspersky said in a statement.
A new market has opened up in the dark web selling all things related to COVID-19, including protective gear and now vaccines. Many of the vaccine sellers the researchers found had conducted 100 to 500 such transactions.
The US FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine in December of 2020 and the vaccination campaigns kicked off all over the world within 24 hours of the approval. However, supply chains have not been able to keep up and poorly designed vaccination programmes have resulted in long delays. Further, each country has prioritised certain groups of individuals for vaccination.
“Medical institutions, pharmacies, and hospitals around the world often end the day with leftover vaccine doses. It is not inconceivable that someone working at these facilities could pocket the extra doses and connect with dark web intermediaries to sell them,” the report said.
Skip the vaccine, get the certification
Kaspersky also found that the market sold fake vaccination certificates, for those unwilling to pay several hundred dollars for a black-market vaccine.
“European countries are the primary source for these certificates, which help ease lockdown measures for certain individuals and facilitate international travel. A European vaccination record card costs about $20–$25,” it said.
Other countries require people to present proof they have no COVID infection before they may carry out certain activities, such as going to work in an office or making a doctor’s appointment. Scammers have been taking advantage of that fact as well. For example, in Russia, dark web users can buy a forged certificate asserting they do not have COVID-19. The certificate does not come cheap, costing somewhere between $50 and $70. A