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Fake vaccines sold online for $1,000

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Threat actors are preying on people's fears. <em>(Image: Getty).</em>
Threat actors are preying on people's fears. (Image: Getty).

Cybercriminals and fraudsters are luring in victims with the promise of COVID-19 vaccines in exchange for cryptocurrency, but Australians have been warned against engaging with anyone purportedly selling vaccines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided unprecedented opportunities for cybercriminals to prey on people’s fears and concerns, the senior director of threat research and detection at cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, Sherrod DeGrippo told Yahoo Finance.

“Fake vaccines are only the latest example, as vaccination programs roll out across the world,” DeGrippo.

“As expected, due to the nature of threat actors following the news cycle, over the previous months Proofpoint researchers have observed more attacks that leverage the COVID-19 vaccine news, beginning with approvals of the vaccine by world governments, before moving on to the logistics of vaccine deployment and distribution to frontline responders and now through the vulnerable groups and wider public.”

She said cybercriminals are using both the darknet and more nondescript platforms like email to lure unsuspecting people into snapping up the fake vaccines.

The scammers are advertising US$500 (AU$646) for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, US$600 (AU$775) for Johnson & Johnson and Sputnik and US$750 (AU$969) for Sinopharm.

Fake vaccine passports are also going for as much as US$150 (AU$194).

Requests for payment in cryptocurrency

Digital generated image of cityscape data.
(Image: Getty).

Scammers will request payment in cryptocurrency as it is traditionally more difficult to track transactions in the currency.

“Threat actors often re-locate their stolen money via hundreds or even thousands of transactions, even breaking it down into smaller amounts on the way, and consistently move it between their own online wallets,” DeGrippo said.

It’s also easier for threat actors to open some cryptocurrency accounts which don’t require identification, again making it easier for them to process multiple streams of stolen money.

And Australia is especially vulnerable, she added, noting Proofpoint research finding Australia is above the global average for malicious mail and phishing attacks.

“It’s clearly a tactic that’s being deployed to a high degree of success and something that people need to be aware of.”

Australia at risk

coronavirus vaccine vial in white gloved hand
(Image: Getty).

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) is currently monitoring the situation.

Responding to questioning from Labor MP Anne Aly on whether ACIC was seeing fake vaccines sold on the darknet by criminal syndicates, ACIC CEO Michael Phelan said he was aware of the market online.

In March, Interpol confirmed reports of fake vaccine rings, while Chinese police in March made 80 arrests at a factory allegedly producing the fake vaccine.

You can buy anything on the dark web. You can order a hit, if you want to, to kill somebody on the dark web so you can do anything you like down there,” Phelan told the senate committee on law enforcement.

“In terms of serious and organised crime's involvement—not a lot at this stage. I am not going to say it's not happening, but we're not seeing that at scale on the dark web, or indeed in relation to Australia and any fake vaccines here, to the extent that you would see something like fake tobacco et cetera, which is done on scale.”

Flawed vaccine rollout the catalyst

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: A general view of the mass vaccination hub at the Royal Exhibition Building on April 21, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. Mass-vaccination hubs have opened in Melbourne and Geelong today, open to people eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Any Victorian eligible to be vaccinated under phase 1a or 1b will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Melbourne&#39;s Royal Exhibition Building, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre or at Geelong&#39;s former Ford factory from today. (Photo by Luis Ascui - Pool/Getty Images)
The mass vaccination hub at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, Australia. (Image: Getty).

While Interpol has urged people to remember that there are no approved vaccines available online, and as such the vaccines will not be legitimate and potentially dangerous, the lack of a streamlined global vaccination plan is fueling desperation.

“One of the most pressing concerns around the vaccine passport initiative is the lack of a clear and universal process. The result of this lack of uniformity is a patchwork of systems and schemes across governments and private companies,” DeGrippo said.

“Simply put, these fraudulent vaccine advertisements are money-making exercises. Anyone falling for one of those will either directly lose money or hand over sensitive personal information for threat actors to use or resell.”

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Image: Yahoo Finance
Image: Yahoo Finance