GUANGZHOU, China â Sellers on the so-called dark web have been putting out an increasing number of advertisements for Covid-19 vaccines, asking for bitcoin as payment and not delivering the goods, according to cybersecurity firm Check Point.
The dark net is effectively a hidden portion of the internet that requires special software to access. It is notorious for being a place to buy drugs, firearms and other illicit goods.
As countries around the world race to roll out vaccination programs, opportunistic scammers online are looking to take advantage.
Check Point’s search query for vaccines on the dark web returned over 340 ads in 34 pages, compared to just 8 pages of results from a similar query ran in early December, the company said in an updated research report published on Tuesday.
The average median price tag of $ 250 for an unspecified vaccine dose has now doubled or quadrupled to $ 500, or even up to $ 1000, Check Point said.
Researchers from the cybersecurity firm placed an order for a vaccine dose from a vendor that they contacted on encrypted messaging app Telegram. The researchers were offered a made-in-China vaccine for $ 750 worth of bitcoin. After the researchers paid and sent their delivery address, the seller’s account was deleted and the package is yet to be delivered, they said.
All the listings for vaccines required bitcoin for payment, Check Point said. Bitcoin used to be seen as an anonymous form of payment but has become much more traceable recently.
Check Point said the surge in vaccine ads could be due to people not wanting to wait for one.
“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.
Several sellers claimed to supply vaccine doses in bulk rather than single shots, according to Check Point. One vendor said they could sell a 10,000 vial order at a total price of $ 30,000, the researchers said.
A number of listings also appeared to contradict official medical guidance on doses. One vendor contacted by Check Point offered to sell an unspecified Covid-19 vaccine for around $ 300 worth of bitcoin and claimed 14 doses were required. Several of the approved vaccines require just two doses.
“Unfortunately, while most of us are watching with hope, there are some watching with greed and malice in their minds, with the intent of capitalizing people’s concerns about Covid-19 and desire to be protected against the risk of catching it,” Check Point said in its blog post.