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Black market for fake vaccine cards thrives on Telegram

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Telegram has become the sales platform of choice for vaccine card counterfeiters.People are trying to sell fake vaccine cards to anti-vaxxers on Telegram.

The research arm of security firm Check Point has a new report on the proliferation of fake vaccine card black markets on Telegram. It estimates that there are now over 2,500 active groups and channels selling fake vaccination records from countries all over the globe, a 257 percent increase from its last report in March.

A mix of groups and channels peddling these illicit wares have thousands of members: The average is about 100,000 followers, with one channel posting to more than 450,000 subscribers. Vaccine records are going for around $100 a pop, paid in cryptocurrency, of course. All you need to purchase is to tell sellers what country you want a record for. While vaccine cards and passports are available for dozens of countries, Check Point says most of the sellers focus on European nations.

A Telegram group advertising fake vaccine card sales.

A Telegram group advertising fake vaccine card sales.
Credit: check point

People who don’t want to comply with government or business requirements to get the COVID vaccine might turn to fake vaccine sellers. Rather than get a potentially life-saving shot, they’d rather shell out money to get a fake record. Check Point said that previously the dark web was the main hub for fake vaccine card sales. That’s changed in recent months, with Telegram becoming the platform of choice.

“The shift to Telegram has been the most obvious change in the black market for coronavirus services,” Ekram Ahmed, a Check Point spokesperson, said via email. “We think these vendors have chosen Telegram strategically to scale their distribution, while keeping some degree of privacy.”

Ahmed also noted that Telegram is “less technical to use compared to the dark net and can reach an inordinate amount of people, fast.”

The largest of these public channels has over 450,000 subscribers.

The largest of these public channels has over 450,000 subscribers.
Credit: check point

Telegram is a hybrid messaging platform and social network. Users can privately DM with friends or groups of friends, join public facing “channels” with an unlimited number of members, or be in private groups (all you need is a link to join) that can have up to 200,000 members.

Telegram surpassed over 500 million “active users” in January as a backlash to WhatsApp sending out notifications about its data collection privacy.

Telegram is a good fit for these vendors because of its, shall we say, lax approach to illegal activity. On public channels, Telegram prohibits three types of content: spam and scams, posts promoting violence, and illegal pornographic material. That’s a lot more limited than other social networks, especially when it comes to COVID content. In response to COVID misinformation and scams, multiple social networks specifically banned misleading or illegal posts about COVID.

What’s more, violent or pornographic posts are just fine and dandy in private groups and chats. Actually, anything goes in groups. Telegram explicitly says it “does not process any requests” about content in groups, including those about illegal activity.

“I do believe Telegram should look at this closely and re-evaluate if their content moderation policy requires changes, as I expect the black market in Telegram to only sky rocket more from here, given that governments are likely planning vaccine mandates at various levels,” Ahmed said.

Counterfeiters are selling cards for multiple nations.

Counterfeiters are selling cards for multiple nations.
Credit: check point

According to an FBI public service announcement, both making and selling fake vaccine cards is illegal. It also flies in the face of public health campaigns trying to combat the fast-spreading Delta variant with vaccines. Check Point reports that sellers are marketing their fake cards to people “who don’t want the vaccine” but are living in places requiring vaccination to go to school, work, or otherwise engage in public life.

“We are here to save the world from this poisonous vaccine,” advertised one of the sellers, according to Check Point.

Check Point doesn’t have data on how many people are actually buying the cards. But it says that the quantity and activity of the groups indicates that this is a thriving marketplace.

“The existence, proliferation and market buzz we’re seeing, on a daily basis on Telegram gives us strong reason to believe that the market is transacting at scale,” Ahmed said.

To think it’s all to avoid getting one miracle shot. Sigh.

Fill up and be the part of evolution!