COVID-19 prompted panic buying and price hikes for basic necessities worldwide when the pandemic first hit. However, once vaccines were developed, a market was born out of consumers who wanted their shots as quickly as possible.
Not everyone wants a vaccination, however, and with international restrictions imposed for non-vaccinated travelers, some are looking for alternatives -- including fake records.
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 forum posts advertise their fake certificate wares together with coronavirus claims and misinformation, such as that the "minority ruling is trying to destroy mankind" and the vaccines are "poisonous."
"We do this to help people who are in critical situations and want to travel urgently," one advert read.
On one forum, a trader is offering counterfeit CDC cards, whereas, on another, EU and specifically French documents containing QR codes are being displayed.
The QR codes on legitimate vaccine passports are designed to pull vaccination records from healthcare providers. However, these codes may go to fraudulent websites containing fake records.
Intel 471 also found a variety of vaccines on the market, claiming to be sourced from manufacturers producing AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer, and Sputnik V. However, the e-commerce domains are currently offline.
The researchers say that after tracking vaccine traders, the sellers appear to be keeping a close eye on the news and will market their wares accordingly -- such as to appeal to customers in countries with limited or no vaccine supplies on hand.
"Be it underground vaccine sales or counterfeit vaccine passes, actors are monetizing the fear and misinformation around COVID-19, creating a new market that has been constructed partly by pushing people who have never purchased anything illicit to buy things off of the underground," the firm commented.