New Delhi: Research by Check Point Research (CPR) reveals that fake vaccination certificates and fake test results of 29 different countries, including India, are being sold on Telegram. A fake vaccination certificate for India is available at a price of about $75 each.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in India, various state governments have mandated certain regulations for those undertaking inter-state travel by road or air to mitigate the further spread of the virus. Travelers are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result (RT-PCR report) or a vaccination certificate to enter states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand etc. These states have seen a large influx of tourists following the second wave of the pandemic in India. These regulations may have resulted in the demand for and availability of fake test results and vaccine certificates in the black market from those who do not wish to be vaccinated.
In March 2021, the majority of the fake coronavirus certificates were advertised on the Darknet. Now, CPR sees a majority of black market activity centered around Telegram. CPR suspects the shift to Telegram has helped sellers scale their distribution efforts, reaching more consumers, faster.
Informs Oded Vanunu, Head of Products Vulnerability Research, Check Point Software Technologies, “Check Point Software has been studying the Darknet and Telegram for coronavirus-related activities all year. Vendors are choosing to advertise and do business on Telegram because Telegram is less technical to use compared to the Darknet, allowing them to reach an inordinate amount of people, fast. We believe the broader market surge is fueled by the rapidly spreading Delta variant and the stemming urgency for everyone to become vaccinated. There are people who don’t want to take the vaccine, but still want the freedoms that come with being vaccinated such as access to places. These people are turning to the Darknet and Telegram. Since March 2021, prices for fake vaccination cards have dropped by half and online groups for these fraudulent coronavirus services boast followings of hundreds of thousands of people. I strongly recommend people to not engage these sellers for anything, as these vendors are after more than just selling you fake vaccination cards.”
The black market’s evolution since the beginning of the pandemic
Back in December 2020, CPR spotted hundreds of adverts in the Darknet offering supposed vaccines for sale. The hundreds of adverts presented, back then, a 400% increase compared to previous months. In March 2021, while the global roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations started to accelerate, the number of adverts tripled to over 1,200 with sellers based in the U.S. and European countries such as Spain, Germany, France, and Russia. Prices for fake ‘vaccine passports were US$250 each, while fake negative COVID-19 test results cost just US$25 each.
In our last report back in August 2021, we shared that fake ‘vaccine passport’ certificates were on sale for US$100-US$120, with a majority of sellers from European countries. Also on sale: The EU Digital COVID certificate, CDC and NHS COVID-19 vaccine cards, and fake PCR COVID-19 tests. The number of advertisement groups and their sizes have multiplied by a hundred percent since the beginning of 2021.
In August 2021, CPR saw the number of sellers to number around 1,000. Today, the number of sellers has grown exponentially to the north of 10,000, marking a 10x increase.
Recommendations for awareness
- As a general statement: genuine health-related certificates are not sold over the Internet. Anybody who is offering to sell such documents over the internet is clearly doing so illegally. We recommend people to not engage with sellers publishing on such groups or marketplaces anywhere across the web.
- Every country should internally manage a central repository of tested and vaccinated people, which can and should be securely shared between relevant authorized bodies within the country.
- All ‘green passes’ and vaccination certificates should be managed and encrypted in a secure way by the relevant official bodies within each country, as well as a QR code that can be scanned for authentication purposes.
- Countries should cooperate and share information regarding such data and create a secure repository with encryption keys to allow people to roam using legit only certifications and to be able to detect forged and fake ones
- The advertisements are specifically designed for people “who do not want to take the vaccine”. One advertisement displayed “we are here to save the world from this poisonous vaccine.” The advertisements highlight the ability to travel and work freely as a benefit of their product.
- Payment: Sellers mostly accept payments through PayPal and cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Monero, Dogecoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, and others). In some cases, Steam, Amazon, and eBay gift cards are accepted.
- Contact: Sellers list their method of contact as Telegram, WhatsApp, email, Wickr, and Jabber.