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Cyber security experts warn questionable online ads claiming to sell the COVID-19 vaccine are on the rise

Cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies told 10 Investigates that the group has seen a 400-percent increase since December in the number of online ads.

An ad posted to Craigslist here in Columbus offering to sell the COVID-19 vaccine for $50 has been removed from the online website.

10 Investigates noticed that the ad appeared to have been posted in late December but was flagged and removed from the website sometime this week.

Prior to its removal, 10 Investigates took screen grabs and reached out the contact number -- leaving a voicemail asking about the purported sale of the Moderna vaccine and identifying ourselves as working for a news outlet.

When 10 Investigates reached out again this week, the call was rejected.

It is not clear if the ad was bogus, but a reverse image search conducted by 10 Investigates found an image of the Moderna vaccine in the online post appeared to have been lifted from an Associated Press photo that had been published globally as part news coverage of the vaccine rollout.

Credit: WBNS-10TV
A screengrab from Associated Press showing an image used in a Craigslist ad for the COVID-19 vaccine available for purchase in the Columbus area.


Maya Levine with the cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies told 10 Investigates in a recent interview that her group has seen a 400-percent increase since December in the number of online ads claiming to sell the COVID-19 vaccine.

Levine said the chances of these ads being legitimate is “very, very low.”

“What we've seen in the past month is a 400% increase in the number of fake vaccine ads. Now when I say a fake vaccine ad… I'm assuming that they're fake. We obviously have not gone through and tested each one specifically. The researchers actually did go through one of the ads and pay in Bitcoin and never received anything,” Levine told Chief Investigative Reporter Bennett Haeberle.

Check Point also created a blog about the number of online ads they’ve seen on the dark web – claiming to sell the COVID-19 vaccine. The cybersecurity firm included some of the interactions they had with these would-be sellers, noting that one seller offered to sell 14 doses for .01 bitcoin – which is the equivalent of about $478.

Credit: Check Point
A screengrab from Check Point showing a bogus vaccine ad


Researchers with Check Point did attempt to buy some vaccine from an online seller using bitcoin, but never received anything in return. Levine says she suspect it’s most likely online hackers attempting to take advantage of the high demand for the vaccine and people’s desperation to get it.

“They're very attuned to fear and desperation of people because, like I mentioned before, nothing gets them more success in their scams frauds, or just general attacks (than) when people are fearful, when people are desperate. They don't think as logically and they're much more likely to make mistakes that will benefit the attacker,” Levine said.

Credit: Check Point
A bogus vaccine email from Check Point


10 Investigates reached out to both Moderna and Pfizer asking who they sell their vaccines to.

In an emailed reply, a spokeswoman for Moderna told 10 Investigates: “Moderna has only entered into supply agreements with governments."

Pfizer told 10 Investigates: “We are taking meticulous steps to reduce the risk of counterfeiting, and we track trends very carefully and have processes in place to identify threats to the legitimate supply chain. For our COVID-19 vaccine, we have developed detailed logistical plans and tools to support effective vaccine transport, storage and continuous temperature monitoring. For example, we are utilizing GPS-enabled thermal sensors in every thermal shipper with a control tower that will track the location and temperature of each vaccine shipment across their pre-set routes. Patients should never try to secure a vaccine online — no legitimate vaccine is sold online — and only get vaccinated at certified vaccination centers or by certified healthcare providers.”