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Dark net vendors wanting Bitcoin payments for unverified COVID-19 vaccines

There has been a sharp rise in advertisements on the dark net offering COVID-19 vaccines in early January compared to December 2020, according to cybersecurity researchers at Chek Point.

In the first week of January, researchers found a 400% increase in advertisements offering COVID-19 vaccines, compared to Check Point's previous report published on 11th December 2020.

Vaccine prices in the advertisements had also doubled to $500, and in some cases up to $1000 for an unspecified dose of an unnamed vaccine, compared to December's starting price of around $250 per dose.

Vaccine deliveries are not guaranteed

As the medicines are being offered on the dark net, purchasers have no way of knowing whether they are genuine, Check Point says. All of the vendors investigated by Check Point Research only accepted payments in Bitcoin, which minimises the chance of the transactions being traced and casts further doubt on the authenticity of the medicines being sold.

To test how trustworthy a dark net transaction is, researchers placed an order for a vaccine dose from a vendor, using the Telegram messaging app for the interaction. A Chinese-made vaccine was offered for a price of $750. The researchers paid using Bitcoin, sent their delivery address and asked for the shipment details.

The vendor claimed the vaccine had been shipped, but a few days later the vendor's Telegram account was deleted, making further contact impossible. Researchers have yet to receive their package.

Bulk vaccine sales

Researchers also noticed that several vendors claim to supply vaccine doses in bulk, not just single shots. This may indicate the growth of a vaccine black market that aims to attract those who can afford it to buy vaccinations in bulk and sell on, without waiting for official inoculation programmes, Check Point says.

One vendor that researchers contacted claimed to be able to sell an order totalling 10,000 vials, enough for 5000 people (every vaccine needs to be delivered in two doses, 21 days apart). Due to the size of the shipment the vendor suggested shipping it in 3 - 4 different shipments, at a total price of $30,000. Of course, the legitimacy of the product and transaction cannot be guaranteed.

“As with any online offer from an unknown vendor, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," research at Check Point say.

"Scammers are redoubling their efforts to exploit peoples' desire to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, but as we proved, attempting to purchase vaccines on the dark net is likely to have only one outcome – shrinking your bank account.

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