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Expert Explanation: COVID-19 Vaccination Scams. Be On The Look Out

posted by: Paula Boyden date: Jun 30, 2021 category: All, Expert Explanations comments: 0

It is a hot topic in Australia right now, as our vaccination program ramps up due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria, but around the globe, plenty of countries have been asking this for months.  Have you had your COVID-19 Vaccination yet?

While most citizens around the world are trying to do the right thing, to protect ourselves and our fellow humans from the Global Pandemic that is still amongst us, there are some low-life criminals who are trying to profit from it. As with every natural or man-made disaster that has occurred in recent years, there are criminals who are spreading fake information, or selling fake products to make a profit.

Fake Vaccines

Fake vaccines can be found for sale on the dark web. The people selling them are pretending to be from reputable companies, like Moderna.

Figure 1: Medications for sale on the dark web (Source: FraudWatch International)

 

The sellers will often just pocket the money and never provide the goods.

As well as the financial losses experienced by people who handover money for these fake vaccines, there is also the health risk.  Those who purchase them have no idea if what they are getting is even the legitimate medication.  The fake vaccines have not been tested or approved by any regulatory bodies around the world, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia and could contain a variety of dangerous chemicals.

Figure 2: Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine for sale on the dark web (Source: FraudWatch International)

 

Fake Vaccine Passports

Some countries are lifting restrictions for people who can prove they have been vaccinated.  These people are being allowed to visit entertainment venues or cross borders, if they can show vaccine papers.  Criminals are taking advantage of this, by producing fake passports and selling them cheaply online.

This allows Anti-vaxxers (or others simply hesitant to be vaccinated) to obtain a vaccine passport on the black-market and claim that they have had the shot. They can then move around freely, with fewer restrictions than they would normally have had, due to being unvaccinated.  This completely undermines the reason behind the vaccination programs around the world, which is to ensure that a large portion of the population are vaccinated against COVID-19, to prevent a third or fourth wave of the virus spreading within countries and causing more deaths.

In April 2021, Reuters reported that fake vaccination papers can be bought for as little as US$12 on the dark web, with the documents supposedly issued in the United States, Russia and other countries.

Forgeries have also appeared on regular websites and e-commerce platforms. The report claimed that 45 attorney generals from the United States signed a letter calling on the heads of Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to take immediate action to prevent their platforms from being used to sell fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards.

“The false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threatens the health of our communities, slows progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and are a violation of the laws of many states,” it read.

But NBN New York reported that, only one month after the letter was signed, some of the sales of fake vaccine cards had moved to the encrypted social media app called Telegram.  They were being sold from user accounts claiming to be doctors or pharmacies, with messages like, “Inbox us and we’ll get you the cards without any vaccine.” A fake vaccination card obtained by the I-Team, appeared to contain a real Moderna lot number as well as the name of a real pharmacy in New Jersey.

Figure 3: Fake vaccination record received by the I-Team for $89 plus shipping (Source: © Provided by NBC New York)

 

Kaitlin Caruso, Acting Director of New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs, said thwarting vaccine card counterfeiters is a massive challenge for state and federal law enforcement. “It is a widespread cross-jurisdictional challenge that has a little bit of a whack-a-mole element to it,” she said.

She also stated that, any healthcare professionals like doctors and pharmacists who are falsifying vaccination information, could be facing criminal charges as well as losing their medical licences.

However, a more serious consequence of the fake vaccine passports, is the risk to public health. With fake vaccination records out there, it is harder it is to identify the authentic ones.  William Tong, Connecticut’s Attorney General, summed it up perfectly.  “Saying that you’re vaccinated means something,” Tong said, “and lying about that is a very dangerous game.”

Vaccination Cards

Those people who have already rolled up their sleeve to receive their first or second vaccination dose, are understandably proud and want to share the moment with friends and family on social media.  The problem is, some vaccination cards contain your full name, your birthdate, when and where you got vaccinated (including the lot number for your vaccine) and you may be handing valuable information over to a cybercriminal who could use it for identity theft.

Figure 4: Redacted COVID-19 Vaccination Card (Source: UW–⁠Madison Information Technology)

“Think of it this way—identity theft works like a puzzle, made up of pieces of personal information. You don’t want to give identity thieves the pieces they need to finish the picture,” says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a recent blog post, Social media is no place for COVID-19 vaccination cards.

Once the criminals have your identity details, they can use the information to open new banks accounts in your name, claim your tax refund, create social media accounts to use for scams, apply for credit cards, and more.

So, while you’re doing your bit to protect yourself and others by getting a COVID-19 vaccine, make sure you protect your personal information by not revealing your vaccine card in your social media selfie. Or, if you do want to post a pic of your vaccination card, cover up the main details (like surname, DOB and vaccine batch number). Better still, if you’re lucky enough to get a vaccination sticker or badge, post that on Facebook instead!

 

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