Covid-19 vaccines sold on darknet from $250 to $1,200 and paid for with Bitcoin

Cyber security firm Kaspersky warns that vaccines advertised on darknet likely to be scams

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
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Three major Covid-19 vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna – are being advertised for sale on the darknet and being paid for with Bitcoin, according to cyber security firm Kaspersky.

The price per vaccine ranges from $250 to $1,200, with the average cost about $500, the cyber security firm said. Besides, vaccines from the approved manufacturers, the anonymous sellers are also advertising unverified Covid-19 vaccines.

The majority of those selling Covid-19 vaccines on the darknet are from France, Germany, the UK and the US, Kaspersky said, following an analysis of 15 hidden marketplaces. The darknet is a part of the internet that is not visible to search engines and requires the use of an anonymous browser, such as Tor, to gain access.

Kaspersky said buyers and sellers are communicating via encrypted messaging apps, like Wickr and Telegram, while payments are requested in the form of cryptocurrency, primarily Bitcoin.

“You can find just about anything on the darknet, so it’s not surprising … sellers there would attempt to capitalise on the vaccination campaign,” Dmitry Galov, a security expert at Kaspersky, said. “People [are] selling [not only] vaccine doses, but they are also selling vaccination records … pieces of paper that can help you travel freely. Users need to be cautious of any deal related to the pandemic … it’s never a good idea to buy a vaccine off the darknet,” Mr Galov said.

Over the past year, many online fraudulent campaigns and scams exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic have been unearthed. Earlier this year, US authorities uncovered a criminal operation that was distributing fake Covid-19 vaccines for $1,000 and also seized a website that was advertising Covid-19 scams.

Kaspersky said the majority of underground sellers have made between 100 and 500 transactions, indicating that sales were taking place. But it remained unclear what exactly darknet users were purchasing.

“It is impossible to tell how many of the vaccine doses being advertised online are actual doses and how many advertisements are a scam … most likely what you would receive would not be an effective, valid dose,” the company said.