Online fraud schemes promising the COVID-19 vaccine are on the rise

Scammers take advantage of the anxiety of people waiting in line for vaccinations.

As millions of people wait for their turn to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which may take several more months, scammers have appeared on the Internet promising to deliver the vaccine within a few days for just $ 150.

Fraudulent schemes around COVID-19 are becoming more common. The United States and European countries’ authorities warn, urging people not to succumb to deceptive offers to obtain money or personal data.

Reuters conducted a study on various sites on the Internet, on forums on the darknet, and in the Telegram messenger, finding seven different offers promising potential buyers a vaccine against COVID-19.

Among the techniques are sending out emails offering to get into supposedly secret lists for early access to vaccines and automated calls from scammers posing as government agencies. On the darknet forums, COVID-19 vaccines have joined the list of more traditional illegal products.

The FBI and Interpol warn of the emergence of fraudulent schemes related to the pandemic, noting that advertising drugs and vaccines on fake sites can pose a cyber threat and a significant risk to human 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 filing with regulators, according to Recorded Future, a company that tracks fraudulent Internet schemes around the pandemic.

Scammers take advantage of people’s concern that vaccination is going slower than planned. Most will probably have to wait until spring or even summer to get vaccinated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 4.5 million people in the United States had received the first dose of the vaccine by Monday. According to earlier government projections, 20 million people were expected to be vaccinated by the end of 2020.

On the Agartha forum on the darknet, offers for the sale of vaccine dollars are juxtaposed with ads for cocaine, opioid drugs, counterfeit bills, and weapons. The price of the bottle is from 500 to 1000 dollars or the equivalent of bitcoin.

On another site, a seller calling himself an employee of the Wuhan Institute of Science offers vaccines for donation and asks buyers to provide medical information.

Several Telegram channels offer the Moderna vaccine for $ 180, Pfizer for $ 150, and AstraZeneca for $ 110.

Pfizer says it is taking active measures to combat counterfeiting and is closely monitoring trends on the Internet.

“In no case should you try to buy a vaccine on the Internet? No real vaccine is sold online. You should only be vaccinated in certified centers,” a Pfizer spokesperson said.

Representatives of Moderna forwarded questions to the Ministry of Health and Social Security, which has not yet commented. AstraZeneca also declined to comment.

The FBI, the US Department of Health, and the US Department of Justice call for reporting any suspicious schemes related to the coronavirus.

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