Tired of waiting to get your vaccine appointment? For just $500, you could get a COVID-19 vaccine dose tomorrow (overnight shipping not included). Too rich for your blood? How about a vaccination card for just $150?
Security researchers have seen a spike in listings on dark web marketplaces in recent weeks. The sites are advertising everything from vaccine doses to falsified vaccine certifications and negative test results. Currently, more than 1,200 listings are offering a variety of vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Sputnik, and Sinopharm.
Investigations by researchers at security firm Check Point have been monitoring the sites for COVID-19-related activity since January, and they report a three-fold increase in such activity over the last three months. It’s unclear if the doses are legitimate, and even if they were, there’s no guarantee that the vials have been stored at the correct temperature, potentially rendering them useless.
Last week, Check Point researchers based in Israel attempted to buy the Sinopharm vaccine from one vendor, said Ekram Ahmed, a spokesperson for the company. “We tried to negotiate and buy the Chinese vaccine through one of the vendors,” he told Ars. The team messaged the vendor, who directed them to continue the negotiations on Telegram. Once there, the vendor provided reassurances that the vaccine doses were legitimate. The researchers sent $500 to a Bitcoin wallet, and while they have received a FedEx shipping label, they have yet to receive the shipment.
Dark web vendors are probably doing better business selling falsified vaccine cards and negative test results. “Lately, we’re seeing more vaccination certificates being offered” than vaccines, Ahmed said. “It’s probably a two-to-one ratio.”
With COVID-19 testing becoming more widespread, the price for negative test results is as low as $25. Vaccination cards are harder to come by and are selling for more, around $200. These certificates are becoming passports of sorts, allowing people a freedom of movement they haven’t enjoyed in months. The European Union is in the process of creating a “digital green certificate” that they hope to roll out by June to allow its citizens and residents to travel across borders. In the US, proof of vaccination could grant people access to certain venues, and employers may require it of their employees to return to the workplace.
The researchers have alerted Europol to the listing and are contacting others today.
Ahmed, the Check Point spokesperson, said that the sellers they contacted on dark web marketplaces were hoping to set up long-term relationships with their customers. The target market, he said, “are folks on the ground, people who are looking to spread and sell at the local level in bulk.”
Listing image by Check Point Research