The world has been fighting the Covid-19 pandemic for more than a year now. Restrictions, lockdowns, strict curfews, and vaccination are extremely important measures to contain the pandemic and seemed to work for some countries that have total control of the virus. But the world as a whole is still crippled with more than 4 million new cases in the last week, according to the WHO. Despite increasing vaccine production, we’re still in massive shortages, and only carefully selected groups are receiving their doses. This has opened up new opportunities for illegal activities and massively increasing Covid related sales on illegal darknet markets.
A Shift in the Market
Pandemic restrictions and lockdowns have shifted the whole world economy and a lot of brick and mortar shops had to be closed or restructure their business models. It is estimated that the global GDP loss due to Covid-19 will be around 3-4.5%.
A lot of businesses, including illegal ones, are adapting, and if they haven’t before they are moving online now. Darknet marketplace besides selling illegal drugs, guns, human trafficking, and illegal services was also a place to get prescription medicine and other medical supplies. Since the start of the pandemic, dark-net marketplaces have seen a surge of new sellers offering personal protective equipment, ventilators, and most recently vaccines or their documentation.
Dark-net markets are extremely fast to adapt to changes in the economy and will offer anything that is in shortage in the regular economy. Early last year in March when the pandemic has just started and everyone was urged to wear protective masks we have seen a quick mask shortage, but just in a few days, there were hundreds of new dark-net listings selling protective equipment. When the supply caught up with the worldwide demand and masks were available everywhere darknet listings plunged.
A Surge in Vaccine Ads
In the last 3-4 months researchers have seen a whopping 300-400% increase in dark-net vaccine listings. With the whole world waiting in line to get a vaccine of any type and start living their lives normally, people who are far away from getting the free vaccine, turn into illegal dark-net markets. The increased demand for a scarce product massively increased illegal supply in the dark net.
Dark-net sellers are offering SinoPharm, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Sputnik with an average price of $500-$600 with some listings going up to $1200-$1300. If we compare that to early December when there were ads for $250-$300 unspecified vaccines we see a massive increase in price.
With Israel’s introduction of the Green Pass, the European Commission proposing the creation of a Digital Green Certificate other countries started creating similar programs to allow people with negative test results or vaccination certificates more freedom. Dark-net markets as always quickly caught up.
If vaccines are too expensive and you need proof of negative test results sellers offer negative test result cards ranging from $25-$50. Russian darknet users can get a fake certificate stating they don’t have Covid-19 for 3,500 - 5,000 rubles ($50–$70).
There have also been sightings of fake vaccination certificates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People looking to travel without getting a vaccine are offered fake certificates for $150-$250. After payment in Bitcoin, they have to send all their details to the seller and receive the certification by email.
Is it Safe to Buy?
Dark-net markets have always been very risky and hard to verify the product you’re buying. With a massive increase in demand for vaccination and fake documentation, it is natural that the number of scams will increase too. There have been reports of people ordering vaccines and being ghosted by the seller and then seeing their profile disappear, others reported getting the vaccine and using it.
It is also important to remember that even if you’ll be getting a legitimate vaccine there is no way to ensure the vaccine is being properly transported. All Covid-19 vaccines are required to be stored in < a href="https://www.sps.nhs.uk/articles/storage-requirements-for-each-covid-19-vaccine/">at least 2 to 8°C to survive the shipping period.
If you’re planning on buying any fake test results or vaccination certification make sure to do as much verification as possible. Check if the seller has a positive history and done similar deals before. Check the offered fake documents: do they look similar to local originals? Are spelling and grammar correct? Same logos? Keep in mind if your country has digitalized systems and documents contain QR or barcodes it will be almost impossible to forge such documents to be legit if checked.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a field day for scammers and fraudsters offline and especially online. The UK reports £34.5m stolen in Covid-related cyber fraud since 1st of March 2020. There have been a total of 416,000 reports of cyber fraud involving fake bank loans, email attacks, and fake dark-net sales.
The U.S. has been hit with an even bigger $382 million loss to scammers. Most common scams were related to stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, fake covid vaccines, or other fake medication.
It’s advised to always be careful and do as much research on the seller as possible when buying on the dark-net. With more and more vaccine listings showing up it’s is also important to remember that the number of scammers increases as well. There is no way of ensuring if you get the vaccine that it is the real deal. You might be just getting water or something harmful to your body so it’s better to avoid it at all and trust government-approved bodies at least for now.