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Online fraudsters are raising the price of false COVID vaccine cards in the wake of a new federal mandate, the latest in a series of scams that seek to exploit widespread concern and misinformation about the deadly pandemic.
The average cost of a counterfeit “registered” Center for Disease Control vaccine card doubled to $200 after President Joe Biden’s Thursday announcement that federal employees and others would receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to new research from Israeli cybersecurity firm Check. Will need to get the shot. Point Software Technologies.
Oded Vanunu, Check Point’s head of product vulnerabilities research, says COVID-generated black market activity was found primarily on “darknet” websites geared toward dealers when the company began monitoring the issue in January. Those dealers would buy counterfeit documents in bulk and resell them.
Since then, the activity has shifted to groups on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. Groups offer great reach and scale along with anonymity. In the past month, the number of sellers on Telegram has grown tenfold to almost 10,000.
There has also been a jump in the number of people subscribing to those groups. Before Biden’s announcement, some of the larger groups had 30,000 subscribers and followers. After the news, those numbers increased with some groups reaching nearly 300,000 members, a number the researchers hadn’t seen before.
Telegram representatives did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
“We expect the black market for fake coronavirus vaccination cards to continue to grow as more policies requiring vaccination proofs come into force,” Vanunu said in a statement accompanying the report.
The proliferation of fake vaccine documentation online is part of a wider problem that authorities are trying to combat. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have misreported the disease since the early days of the pandemic. The FBI has warned about vaccine scams and perpetrated online fraud that used the pandemic to raise false donations.
And the Federal Trade Commission has cautioned consumers to be on the lookout for scammers pretending to be government officials in an attempt to access victims’ bank accounts.
The Biden administration’s plan is designed to address both the growing delta variant and the slow pace of vaccination in the US. It mandates vaccines for all federal employees and contractors who do business with the federal government, as well as health care workers in Medicare and Medicaid facilities.
Businesses with more than 100 employees will also need to have their employees vaccinated or tested weekly for infection. Altogether, the plan could reach 100 million people, about two-thirds of the US workforce.
The plan encourages entertainment venues such as playgrounds and concert halls to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry to patrons.
The market for fake documents is on the rise around the world. Researchers at Check Point found documents for sale in nine new countries that weren’t found a month ago, bringing the total number of countries spotted to 28.
In addition to the fake CDC vaccination cards, the researchers also looked at counterfeit versions of the UK’s National Health Service card, vaccine certificates for several other countries, EU digital certificates and COVID PCR test results.