Millions of people around the world are desperately waiting for a vaccine that will keep them safe from the COVID-19. Even though many countries have started mass vaccination programs, immunizing the whole nation is a long process. Hence, the delay in vaccine distribution has provided new opportunities to the darknet vendors to scam people.
According to a report by the security firm Check Point, vendors on the darknet — known for being the den of notorious people, including arms dealers, pedophiles, terrorists and cybercriminals — are trying to sell unknown COVID-19 vaccines with price tags of up to $1,000 for a dose that is likely to be fake.
When the researchers began scouting the darknet for offers on fake Coronavirus vaccines in December, they found them for sale with prices starting from $250. It was at a time when COVID-19 vaccines became officially available worldwide. The Check Point team then noticed that the vendors were accepting payments via bitcoins to minimize the risk of being traced.
The researchers communicated with one of the vendors in December. The seller offered them an unspecified COVID-19 vaccine for 0.01 bitcoins, which is equivalent to $300. He claimed that 14 doses were needed for the vaccine to become effective enough. But in reality, none of the vaccines developed by experts all around the world, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna, recommended more than two shots.
After some vaccines received emergency approval and countries began mass vaccination programs, the researchers again tried to look for vaccine doses on the darknet in January. They found that this time the number of advertisements for those unknown vaccines had exploded and the price had doubled or even quadrupled.
"We believe this is because of a spike in demand from individuals who don't wish to wait weeks or months to receive their vaccination from their countries' governments," reported the security company on Wednesday, January 13.
It Is All about the Demand
The researchers also noticed the search result for "COVID vaccine" became huge—340 advertisements, in 34 pages—while in December the query for vaccines returned to just eight pages. In early December the average price tag was around $250, but now the vendors are asking for bitcoins equivalent to $500 or even $1,000 for an unspecified dose.
According to the report, in December they noticed that the sellers offering 'made in China' vaccines, which were unbranded and not FDA approved. But after approved vaccines started to be distributed globally, most of the vendors started to sell these as named brands or simply not specifying the vaccine's brand.
The researchers took a step ahead and placed an order for vaccine dose after communicating with a vendor through Telegram. They were offered a Chinese vaccine for $750 and made payments via bitcoin. The researchers also provided their delivery address and asked for shipment details.
After a few days since they placed the order, the Check Point team received a message from the vendor saying the vaccine had been shipped. But a few days later, the vendor's account was deleted and the researchers never received the ordered vaccine.