Black market for fake vaccine certificates fuelled by Delta variant: Report

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on August 11, 2021

Sellers target vaccine hesitant individuals, turn to darknet and Telegram

Cybersecurity firm Check Point Research (CPR) witnessed an exponential growth in the market activity for fake coronavirus vaccine certificates, primarily on Telegram, the company has said.

As Covid-19 cases rise across the globe owing to the Delta variant, multiple countries have announced curbs, with certain relaxations for fully vaccinated individuals.

Vaccine hesitant individuals have resorted to purchasing fake vaccination certificates, as per the report.

In March 2021, CPR had published a report that first detailed the trend of fake ‘vaccine passports’ being sold online across the darknet. Since then, CPR has continued to monitor the black market for activity around alleged coronavirus services, it said.

Sellers have expanded the country range for fake vaccine certificates. In March, the US, UK and Germany accounted for the majority of advertisements. Currently, sellers on the darknet advertise fake vaccination cards for all over the world, including US, UK, Switzerland, Pakistan, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Indonesia and France.

There has also been a significant focus on distribution of such fake documents through messaging platform Telegram.

The number of groups on Telegram that advertise fake vaccination cards increased by 257 per cent, as CPR now estimates over 2,500 groups are currently active. Group followership for these have increased by 566 per cent, as it estimates groups with 100,000 followers each on average, with some groups exceeding over 450,000 followers.

Sellers have also cut the price to purchase fake vaccination cards in half, from $200 a pop in March to as low as $100 today.

“For as low as $100, advertisements promise the EU Digital Covid certificate, CDC and NHS Covid vaccination cards, alongside fake PCR Covid-19 tests to anyone willing to pay, “ the report said.

“Sellers are organising their services in groups on Telegram, with some groups exceeding 450,000 followers, as sellers view Telegram as a far more efficient means to scale distribution. Vaccination certificates for almost every country are available for purchase. The majority of the fake certificates are being sold from European countries,” it said.

Targeting vaccine hesitant buyers

As observed by the cybersecurity firm, these advertisements are specifically designed for people “who do not want to take the vaccine.”

An example cited by CPR showed an advertisement displaying, “we are here to save the world from this poisonous vaccine.”

“The advertisements highlight the ability to travel and work freely as benefits of their product. Advertisements purport that their vaccination cards are registered and verified in the NHS and CDC system online, as well as the EU database,” CPR further explained.

As for the payment for such certificates ,sellers mostly accept payments through PayPal and cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Monero, Dogecoin, Litecoin, Ethereum and others). In some cases, Steam, Amazon and ebay gift-cards are accepted.

Sellers list their method of contact as Telegram, WhatsApp, email, Wickr and Jabber.

Oded Vanunu, Head of Products Vulnerabilities Research at Check Point said, “We believe the broader market surge is fueled by the rapidly spreading Delta variant and the stemming urgency for everyone to become vaccinated. In effect, there are people who don’t want to take the vaccine, but still want the freedoms that come with proving vaccination. These people are increasingly turning to the darknet and Telegram in scores.”

“Vendors are choosing to advertise and do business on Telegram because it scales their distribution. Telegram is less technical to use compared to the dark net and can reach an inordinate amount of people, fast. Since March, prices for fake vaccination cards have dropped by half and online groups for these fraudulent coronavirus services boast followings of hundreds of thousands of people. I strongly recommend people to no engage these sellers for anything, as these vendors are after more than just selling you fake vaccination cards,” Vanunu added.

Published on August 11, 2021

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