A hidden market for the pandemic advertising fake vaccines and test certificates for as little as £ 25 has grown exponentially, with more than 1,200 providers in the UK and around the world, researchers have found.
After UK ministers announced the return of overseas holidays, with travelers forced to show negative test evidence and vaccine passports on the horizon, The Guardian also learned that anti-vaccines and people who come to Britain from poorer countries constitute a significant number of those who buy counterfeit pandemic paraphernalia.
Parliamentarians were told last month that more than 100 people a day They are trying to enter the UK using fake Covid test certificates as people try to circumvent current entry requirements, which include pre and post-trip testing and can cost hundreds of pounds per person.
Researchers based in Israel found evidence of counterfeit vaccine cards by the NHS and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with fake test certificates, all available for sale at the dark web and through easily accessible platforms, including messaging applications WhatsApp, Telegram and Jabber.
Products that are purportedly vaccines and Covid treatments are also on offer, according to Oded Vanunu and Liad Mizrachi of cybersecurity firm Check Point.
Researchers spotted around 20 dark web providers in November last year, increasing to 600 in January and more than 1,200 in March this year. The darknet is a network within the Internet that can only be accessed with specific software. There are also several channels on Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, some of which have more than 1,000 subscribers.
The ministers recently revealed the details of a “traffic light” system for the holidays, which sets the criteria for leisure travel as of Monday. Travelers arriving from green list countries will need to take at least two tests, each at an average cost of £ 128, according to data from travel industry experts, while amber and red list arrivals require at least three tests.
Union officials have reported that UK border workers are catching around 100 people a day brandishing false proof certificates. A Border Force official told The Guardian that the majority of travelers who are caught when they arrive in the UK with fake Covid negative test certificates are from poorer nations, including African, South American and Asian countries.
Mizrachi, principal investigator at Check Point, said anti-vaccines, individuals who refuse to take the vaccine because of unfounded conspiracy theories and spread dangerous misinformation, are among those who buy counterfeit certificates.
“We have all the people against vaccines,” he said. “These two groups are perfectly matched. ‘I don’t want to get vaccinated’ [and] someone says, ‘Hey, you can get your vaccination certificate here.’ It is significant. “
Vanunu, Head of Product Vulnerability Research at Check Point, said: “From the start of the epidemic in 2020, we started to see the dark web producing supply channels for things related to Covid.
“At the beginning, I was offering the missing accessories, the masks, the protective gear. There was a lot of discussion about the treatments. We started to see these drugs for sale on the dark web. “
In October last year, Vanunu said they started seeing suppliers offering vaccines, mainly Chinese-made Sinovac and Russian-made Sputnik. Later in the year, they saw Pfizer and Moderna jabs being offered, although researchers have questioned the authenticity of the products due to logistical challenges in storing Pfizer and Moderna jabs at low temperatures.
Vanunu and Mizrachi tried to buy a vaccine from a supplier and paid with cryptocurrency, but the product never appeared and the supplier disappeared.
“In March, suppliers supplied from all European countries: Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden … [plus] Mexico, Australia, ”said Vanunu. “After the vaccines, the next step was the certificates and the negative tests.”
The researchers showed The Guardian a simple method for purchasing the NHS vaccine cards issued to people who have received their vaccine. Except for a few small punctuation errors, the cards have a great resemblance. Similarly, the US equivalent at the CDC is widely available.
The researchers said that people who proudly post images of themselves holding the cards on social media unknowingly provide the source of the fakes. Without an official global database that records people’s vaccination status, the system will be open to fakes and forgeries, Vanunu said.
Mizrachi showed an open web platform to buy the so-called ‘prank’ Covid negative tests for £ 25. The site shows repeated disclaimers warning that the certificates should not be used formally, but bear an uncanny similarity to the genuine article.
Earlier this year Europol, the EU’s cross-border law enforcement agency, warned that scammers were producing and selling false negative coronavirus test certificates at airports, stations and online across Europe.
Local trade standards bodies and individual police forces have issued their own warning against the use of counterfeits and asked people to report them.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said: “The Border Force is verifying that all passengers have complied with the health measures in force when arriving at the border.
“Providing forged documents is illegal. Border Force officers are trained to detect forged documents and have the right to deny entry and issue [a] Fine of £ 500 to any visitor who believes they have traveled to the UK using fraudulent Covid proof certificates.
“People who fail to fulfill their legal duty to self-quarantine at home after international travel can be fined £ 1,000, increasing up to £ 10,000 for repeat offenses.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism