Counterfeit vaccine certificates, fake negative test results, and what are being touted as “COVID-19 vaccines” are being flogged on the dark web, according to a new report this week.
Check Point Research, an American-Israeli IT and cybersecurity company, recently published their findings investigating how peddlers on the dark web have quickly jumped on the demand created by the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
According to their report, the past few months have seen a surge in the number of online listings for supposed COVID-19 vaccines. In January 2021, Check Point reported how there were hundreds of posts on the dark net advertising illicit COVID-19 vaccines for $500 to $1,000 per dose. Now, they say the number of adverts has tripled to over 1,200 by mid-March.
The vaccines advertised include Oxford-AstraZeneca (for around $500), Johnson & Johnson ($600), the Russian Sputnik V vaccine ($600), and the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine ($500). Sellers of vaccines appear to be from the US, UK, Spain, Germany, France, and Russia, but, obviously, their identities are obscured. All payments are bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies to ensure the seller or buyer cannot be identified through payment transactions.
Needless to say, buying unregulated medicines from a shady online marketplace is a very bad idea. The provenance of the supposed vaccines being sold on the dark web is totally unknown; they may be stolen, they could be imitations of the genuine vaccines, or they may simply be bogus shots containing saline solutions. Either way, no doctor would recommend injecting this stuff into your body.
On top of vaccines, dark web vendors are also selling forged documents, including faked negative COVID-19 test papers and counterfeit vaccine certificates. One seller, supposedly from the UK, has offered custom vaccine certificates for $150, which included a badge from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with personalized handwriting as if it had been written by a medical professional.
Other listings were advertising negative COVID-19 test results, claiming “We do negative covid tests, for travelers abroad, for getting a job etc. Everything is done within 24 hours, without big collaterals.” The post even adds, “Buy 2 negative tests and get the 3rd for free!"
Worries over counterfeit vaccine certificates have already been flagged by some law enforcement authorities. Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, warned about the illicit sale of fake vaccine tests and certificates last month, saying they have already seen numerous cases of fraudulent COVID-19 test certificates being sold to travelers. As one example, Europol claims they "dismantled" a forgery ring selling negative test results to passengers at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France.
With so-called "vaccine passports" likely to play an important role in the next stage of the pandemic, Check Point argues that governments need to pay close attention to the issue of forged documents related to COVID-19.
"As COVID-19 is likely to play a major role in dictating what we as individuals can and cannot do in our daily lives for the foreseeable future, countries’ Governments should be aware of this fast-growing illegal and dangerous trend for fake vaccination certificates and “official” medical records being sold and produced to whoever wishes to pay for them," Check Point concluded.
For more information about COVID-19, check out the IFLScience COVID-19 hub where you can follow the current state of the pandemic, the progress of vaccine development, and further insights into the disease.