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As air travel returns, fake vaccine trades spread globally

With international restrictions imposed for non-vaccinated travelers, millions are looking to buy fake COVID-19 vaccine cards or certificates

Numerous cybercriminals are now offering fake COVID-19 vaccine certifications Fake vaccination certificates are being purchased for as little as $75 Border control authorities lack an international database of vaccinated people around the world

Over 98% of the 100,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and over 1,000 people die daily, the majority of whom for choosing not to get vaccinated despite the ready availability of such drugs, according to an estimate from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

75% of adults refusing vaccination are skeptical of both COVID-19 and its vaccines, and the vast majority (90%) say they are not worried about getting sick and are less convinced the vaccines work, according to the Kaiser polling. 36% of adults on the vaccine fence are mostly worried about side effects.

While these are US numbers, the situation is not much different elsewhere and with international restrictions imposed for non-vaccinated travelers, some are looking for alternatives.

Fake records are proving to be the top choice to overcome that challenge.

Fake vaccine trade

According to research conducted by Intel 471, the vaccine trade is still strong, but numerous cybercriminals are now also offering fake COVID-19 vaccine certifications focused on US and EU entry requirements.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination cards are issued by vaccine providers in a paper format. The EU also offers a vaccine passport, the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which is issued to European residents in a paper and digital form. 

Underground traders are offering counterfeit CDC cards, EU and French documents containing QR codes that may go to fraudulent websites containing fake records.

Intel 471 researchers say sellers appear to be keeping a close eye on the news and will market their products accordingly, such as to appeal to customers in countries with limited or no vaccine supplies on hand. 

Real versions of the CDC cards are free as are the vaccinations. But for those in a hurry to get one or refusing to get the jabs, thousands of online sellers, many of whom are trading from China, claim to offer near-perfect copies of the cards at prices reaching hundreds of dollars.

Also, users offering cards for sale are rampant on the messaging app Telegram, headquartered in the UAE. In January, its founder, Pavel Durov, announced the app had reached half a billion active users worldwide.

Researchers at the cybersecurity company Check Point have identified around 10,000 Telegram users claiming to sell fake vaccination cards.

A global fake trade affair

According to the recent report by Check Point Research, fake vaccination certificates have become a full-blown industry across 29 countries. The research intimates that fake vaccination certificates are being purchased for as little as $75 across countries including India, Australia, the UAE, Thailand, Austria, Brazil, Singapore, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, and Malta among others. Additionally, fraudulent COVID vaccination certificates have also become readily available on the dark web.

This past September in Turkey, Police detained six people, including three nurses, for forging fake coronavirus vaccine passes for unvaccinated people in Istanbul in exchange for money at a private hospital in the city’s Bahçelievler district.  

Turkey has administered around 100 million doses of vaccines since it started its vaccination program in January 2021.  

European countries have introduced smartphone apps to verify whether a certificate is authentic or not, but with the overall number of sellers growing from around 20 to 1,500 between March and December 2020, according to Check Point, that might not be enough.

Channels keep changing their offers to keep up with the latest rules being imposed by national governments.

Unvaccinated people are the category the more likely to buy fake health passes, with people with just one dose of the vaccine coming in second place.

Tracking this type of fraud has become extremely challenging, especially when it comes to international travel, as border control authorities lack an international database of vaccinated people around the world.