Bitcoin. KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images
Since the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use in December there have been a growing number of ads on the dark web offering the inoculation for as much as $1,000 worth of bitcoin.
Scammers online are feeding off people’s desperation for the vaccine since the roll out has been slower than expected.
Researchers from cybersecurity firm Check Point were offered a dose of the coronavirus vaccine for $750 in bitcoin. After the bitcoin payment was made, the vendor’s account was deleted and the researchers did not receive the vaccine.
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Vendors on the dark web have been releasing ads for the coronavirus vaccine asking for payments for as much as $1,000 worth of bitcoin, according to a January report from cybersecurity firm Check Point.
While vaccine scamming on the dark web has been prevalent since the first vaccine was authorized for emergency use in December, the amount of ads and price for the unspecified vaccine doses have continued to go up. Check Point found over 340 ads in 34 pages, while there were only 8 pages worth of advertisements last month.
The ads did not specify whether they were selling the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Several listings even offered faulty information regarding the vaccine doses, with one advertisement claiming the vaccine required 14 doses per person. Official medical protocol calls for two doses.
Read more: What’s coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s the latest on 11 leading programs.
The increase in the vaccine ads is likely driven by growing impatience and desperation to get the vaccine as the roll out in the US has failed to hit targets set by Operation Warp Speed. Check Point wrote in their report they believed scammers were merely playing on people’s desperation to get the vaccine, especially those who are not included in the first tier of vaccine recipients.
“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,” the company said in a blog post.
According to the report, Check Point researchers were offered a dose of the coronavirus vaccine for $750 in bitcoin, after reaching out to one of the vendors claiming to provide the vaccine via Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. After the bitcoin payment was made, the vendor’s account was deleted and the researchers did not receive the vaccine.
Scammers on the dark web also claimed to offer vaccine doses in bulk. One vendor advertised 10,000 vials worth of the unspecified vaccine for $30,000.
Read more: The CIO of a $500 million crypto asset manager breaks down 5 ways of valuing bitcoin and deciding whether to own it after the digital asset breached $40,000 for the first time
With increased scamming drawing more attention to the dark web, authorities are likely looking to disband more sites. European authorities announced they had seized one of the internet’s largest forums for criminal activity, DarkMarket, on January 13. The site had over 500,000 users.
“The scale of the operation at Europol demonstrates the global commitment to tackling the use of the dark web as a means to commit crime,” Europol said in a statement.
The dark web scammers likely required bitcoin payments because they are difficult to trace. In July, hackers took over dozens of celebrity Twitter profiles and used them to call for bitcoin payments.
Bitcoin has seen a massive increase in value since the pandemic began, as the commodity has been seen as a stable stock, with some comparing the cryptocurrency to gold.
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