COVID-19 vaccine scam warning

Cybersecurity company McAfee has warned that an increasingly high number of questionable COVID-19 vaccines and illicit proof of vaccination cards are being sold on the dark web.

McAfee said its research showed that COVID-19 vaccines claimed to be from Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna were currently available on at least a dozen dark web marketplaces.

“Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines, and we can only speculate as to whether they are genuine or a form of liquid ‘fool’s gold’,  can be purchased for as little as $500 (R6,970) per dose from top-selling vendors,” McAfee stated.

“Prospective buyers can receive the product within 2 to 10 days. Some of these supposed COVID-19 vaccines are imported from the United States, while others are packed in the United Kingdom and shipped to every country in the world, according to the underground advertisement.”

Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were also available at $2,000 (R27,880) for a bundle of 10, with worldwide shipping available.

The sellers were using various clear web apps – including Wickr, Telegram, WhatsApp and Gmail – to advertise and communicate about the products.

McAfee provided a screenshot of listings associated with alleged COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition to the suspicious COVID-19 vaccines, McAfee found COVID-19 antibody home test kits for sale.

The kits – which could not be verified as genuine or not – were being sold for $152 each, with various shipping methods available.

“It costs $41 for ‘stealthy’ shipping to the United States, $10.38 to ship to the United Kingdom, and $20 to mail the vaccines internationally,” it stated.

The image below shows one of the test kits which was one sale.

McAfee said the sales of counterfeit COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates started to outnumber the COVID-19 vaccine offerings on the dark web in mid-April.

This was likely due to the vaccine becoming available to most citizens in the US and other affluent countries, requiring them to get the shot or be denied access from certain events or places.

“Opportunistic cybercriminals capitalise on public interest in obtaining a COVID-19 immunity passport, particularly for those who oppose COVID-19 vaccines or test positive for COVID-19 but want to return to school or work, resume travel or attend a public event,” McAfee said.

“Counterfeit negative COVID-19 test results and COVID-19 vaccination cards are available for sale at various darknet marketplaces.”

These include fake CDC-issued vaccination cards being sold for $50 (R700) and German COVID-19 vaccine certificates for $23.35 (R325).

Vaccination cards with customised information, such as “verified” batch or lot numbers for particular dates and “valid” medical and hospital information, are also available for purchase.

One vendor sold CDC vaccination cards for $1,200 (R16,730) and $1,500 (R20,920), which can be personalised with details such as the prospective buyer’s name and medical information.

“Prospective buyers can pay $1,200 for blank cards or $1,500 for custom-made cards with valid batch numbers, medical and hospital details,” McAfee said.

These items are shown in the screenshots below.

The proliferation of these items posed a significant threat to global health.

“Those who buy COVID-19 vaccines or forged vaccination certificates risk their own lives and the lives of others,” McAfee stated.

It advised people to refrain from buying on the dark web, which it said would further promote the sale of illegal products and services.

“The cycle of the underground economy continues as demand generates inventory, which generates supply,” McAfee said.

This warning comes two months after South African authorities seized 2,400 fake COVID-19 vaccines from a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng.

A large number of fake 3M masks were also confiscated, and three Chinese nationals and one Zambian national were arrested.

Interpol provided images of the seized items, which are shown below.

Now read: Dis-Chem’s plan to offer COVID-19 vaccines across South Africa

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COVID-19 vaccine scam warning