Scammers take advantage of the anxiety of people waiting for their turn to get vaccinated
As millions of people wait their turn to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which could take months, scammers have appeared online promising to deliver the vaccine within days for as little as $150.
Fraud schemes surrounding COVID-19 are growing, authorities in the United States and Europe warn, urging people not to fall for fraudulent offers that aim to get money or personal information.
Reuters conducted research on various internet sites, darknet forums, and Telegram messenger and found seven different offers promising potential buyers a vaccine against COVID-19.
Among the techniques are e-mails offering to get on supposedly secret lists for early access to vaccines and automated calls from scammers posing as government agencies. COVID-19 vaccines have joined the list of more traditional illegal products on darknet forums.
The FBI and Interpol have warned of the emergence of pandemic-related fraud schemes, noting that advertising drugs and vaccines on fake sites can pose a cyber threat and a significant risk to health or even life.
The number of domains containing the words “vaccine,” “COVID-19,” or “coronavirus” more than doubled to about 2,500 between October and November, when developers of the first real vaccines were just filing with regulators, according to Recorded Future, which tracks fraudulent Internet schemes around the pandemic.
Fraudsters are taking advantage of people’s concern that vaccinations are going slower than planned. Most will probably have to wait until spring or even summer to get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only about 4.5 million people in the United States had received their first dose of the vaccine by Monday. Earlier government projections had called for 20 million people to be vaccinated by the end of 2020.
On Agartha’s darknet forum, offers to sell the vaccine dollars to sit alongside advertisements for cocaine, opioid drugs, counterfeit bills, and guns. The price of a vial ranges from $500 to $1,000, or the equivalent of a bitcoin.
On another site, a seller calling himself an employee of the Wuhan Institute of Sciences is offering vaccines for a donation and asking buyers for medical information.
Several channels on Telegram are offering a vaccine from Moderna for $180, Pfizer for $150, and AstraZeneca for $110.
Pfizer says it is taking proactive measures to combat counterfeits and closely monitors online trends.
“Under no circumstances should you try to buy a vaccine online. No real vaccine is sold online. You should only get vaccinated at certified centers,” said a Pfizer spokesperson.
Moderna referred questions to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which has not yet commented. AstraZeneca also refrained from commenting.
The FBI, DHS and DOJ have called for the reporting of any suspicious schemes involving the coronavirus.