Darknet scammers are selling fake COVID-19 vaccines for up to $1,200

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With the largest and most complex vaccination campaigns in history underway, scammers have taken advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and are selling fake vaccines on the Darknet.

Through examining 15 different marketplaces on the Darknet, Kaspersky researchers discovered advertisements for three major COVID vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna with other sellers advertising unverified “COVID19” vaccines. 

According to the research findings, majority of sellers originated in 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 are made via encrypted messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram, while payments are requested in the form of cryptocurrency, primarily bitcoin.  

Dmitry Galov, security expert at Kaspersky said, “You can find just about anything on the Darknet, so it’s not surprising sellers there would attempt to capitalise on the vaccination campaign. Over the past year, there have been a whole host of scams exploiting the COVID topic, and many of them have been successful.”

Findings also showed that a majority of these underground sellers have made between 100-500 transactions, indicating that they have been completing sales but what exactly Darknet users are purchasing remains unclear.

Kaspersky says that it is impossible to tell how many of the vaccines doses being advertised online are actual doses (many medical facilities have found themselves with leftover doses) and how many advertisements are a scam.  

Even if you did receive something in the mail, most likely what you would receive would not be an effective, valid dose. More importantly, obtaining such doses is illegal says Kaspersky. 

“Right now, not only are people selling vaccine doses, but they’re also selling vaccination records – pieces of paper that can help you travel freely. It’s important for users to be cautious of any “deal” related to the pandemic, and, of course, it’s never a good idea to buy a vaccine off the Darknet,” concluded Galov.

Recommendations to stay safe from COVID-19 scammers

  • Never buy products – including vaccine doses – on the Darknet.
  • If you see an advertisement for something related to COVID-19, look carefully at the URLs of the sites that you visit. If just one letter looks out of place, or if the usual .com has been replaced with .com.tk or something along those lines, your gut should tell you it’s phishing. Never enter personal information on such a site.
  • Pay attention to grammar and layout on both the sites you visits and the emails you receive. If something smells phishy, it probably is.