COVID-19 vaccines are being sold at hefty prices via Darknet, according to cybersecurity firm

March 15, 2021 - 4:39 PM
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A photo of a COVID-19 vaccine from Kaspersky

Unverified vaccines to prevent the virus which causes COVID-19 are being sold via encrypted messaging platforms, a cybersecurity firm said.

This development came amid the high demand for COVID-19 shots across the world.

In a study conducted by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, advertisements for three COVID-19 vaccines Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna, and other unverified brands in 15 different marketplaces on the Darknet.

The cost per dose range from a hefty $250 (P12,125.63) to $1,200 (P58,203). The average cost is around $500 (P24,251.25), with rates based on  Google’s currency exchange rate feature. ($1 = PHP 48.50)

Majority of the sellers came from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Kaspersky also found that sellers communicate or interact with another through “encrypted messaging apps” such as Wickr and Telegram. To keep it incognito, payments are also in the form of cryptocurrency, primarily bitcoin.

Most of these underground vendors have made between 100 and 500 transactions, according the firm. However, the exact items the Darknet users have purchased have yet to be determined.

Therefore, it is still difficult to differentiate which advertisement is a scam or not, and how many doses are left in legitimate health facilities in the world.

Dmitry Galov, security expert at Kaspersky, said that it’s no longer surprising that Darknet had capitalized on the world’s vaccination campaign.

“You can find just about anything on the Darknet, so it’s not surprising sellers there would attempt to capitalize on the vaccination campaign. Over the past year, there have been a whole host of scams exploiting the COVID topic, and many of them have been successful,” wrote Galoy.

“Right now, not only are people selling vaccine doses, but they’re also selling vaccination records—pieces of paper that can help you travel freely. It’s important for users to be cautious of any ‘deal’ related to the pandemic, and, of course, it’s never a good idea to buy a vaccine off the Darknet,” he said.

Kaspersky provided the following tips to keep safe from these scammers, particularly about COVID-19 vaccine-related information.

  • Never buy products, including vaccine doses, on the Darknet.
  • If you see an advertisement for something related to the novel coronavirus, look carefully at the URLs of the sites that you visit. If just one letter looks out of place, or if the usual .com has been replaced with .com.tk or something along those lines, it might be phishing. Never enter personal information on such a site.
  • Pay attention to grammar and layout on both the sites you visit and the emails you receive.