ROME—The first Western COVID-19 vaccines have only been in circulation for 10 days, and the scammers of the internet underworld are already cashing in.
Both Interpol and Europol issued warnings of a coming onslaught of underworld activity as criminals seek to exploit global pandemic paranoia. There are already doses for sale on the dark web for between $250 and $750 that Europol says could be fatal if used.
“Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives,” Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General, said in a statement. “It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The likeliest scam is the sale of fake vaccines that could range from being ineffective to lethal for anyone who takes them. Law enforcement officials are particularly worried that used vaccine vials will be stolen from waste management centers and refilled to look official.
Europol has already found a number of companies selling vaccines, promising stealth delivery and double-wrapped packaging, to imply that would somehow keep the vaccines that require constant sub-zero temperatures cold enough.
Several dark web vendors are also hawking Chinese vaccines from Sinopharm and Sinovac for $750 per double dose. The Financial Times reached out to the vendor, asking how to store the vaccines, to which they were told a refrigerator would be just fine.
There were already vaccines being touted on the dark web before the U.K. and later the U.S. authorized Pfizer’s for use. Vendors also sold what they advertised as plasma from COVID-19 survivors and magic elixirs to beat the virus, including the creatively named “Say Bye Bye to Covid19.” In every case of suspicious activity, payment is only accepted by Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
Data research firm Checkpoint Research found more than 1,000 new domains tied to the pandemic and eventual sale of vaccines or cures, of which nearly half include the word COVID or CORONA.
Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit also found that of the 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, more than half contained malware.
In Italy, anti-Mafia authorities have warned that organized crime syndicates that started with trafficking personal protective equipment and fake tests and doctored test results to get around quarantines and other restrictions are also expected to be part of the new exploitation by these groups as well. Italy has also seen infiltration by organized crime into the social assistance and public health sectors, compromising some services, especially in the south of the country. Interpol’s Stock warned: “High demand combined with a limited supply will make COVID-19 vaccines the equivalent of liquid gold to organized crime networks.”