The cavalry has arrived. The development of coronavirus vaccines occurred at breakneck pace; much faster than for typical viruses. The rapid spread of the coronavirus itself precipitated an accelerated development timeline.
Vaccine-induced immunity to the disease will disrupt the staggering mortality rates. It will also enable people to see their friends and family again. Further, people and businesses will have the opportunity to recover economically.
While vaccines bring much needed hope and optimism, they also expand opportunities for cyber criminals. Ahead of international vaccine rollouts, officials and experts alike warned of potential vaccine-related scams.
As vaccine appointment websites appeared online, hackers were quick to capitalize on security flukes. In the US, one hacker conducted an attack that disrupted a vaccine appointment hotline. The hacker posed as an administrator on the line and asked for the credit card numbers of elderly citizens. Some members of this targeted group accidentally provided their information.
In the UK, high-risk groups received legitimate, but confounding notices from the National Health Service about vaccination timetables. As the National Health Service attempted to revise its errors, openings for hackers emerged. Criminals could easily send unsuspecting elderly victims messages about where, when and how to schedule vaccine appointments.
Social media is swimming in fraudulent vaccine-related advertisements. Fake friends are quick to click on people’s profiles and to lead them on in conversations about vaccines. New vaccine oriented social media groups are also attracting naïve participants.
Mid-rollout vaccine scams
Cyber security experts warned that distribution locations could experience website bottlenecks caused by bots. When certain types of bots, commonly called ‘scalper bots’ are deployed, they can sweep up limited supplies of coveted electronic or in-store goods. These bots could have quickly gained control over vaccine appointment websites. The bots’ owners would have then been able to resell the appointment slots to the public for extortionist prices.
Bot problems haven’t manifested. Nonetheless, they represent a serious concern as distributors continue to launch and update vaccine appointment portals.
Post distribution vaccine scams
As vaccines have made their way into hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, a large volume of bogus advertisements for vaccines have made their way onto the dark web. In February, one group of researchers discovered 34 unique pages worth of phony vaccine advertisements. In January, only eight pages worth of vaccine ads surfaced. Fraudulent virtual vendors are running rampant.
Organized criminals have discovered that they can sell saline solutions in syringes for profit. When told that the criminals’ contents is the real-deal, vulnerable people may fall victim to the scam. In recent weeks, 80 individuals were arrested for this type of criminal behavior.
In addition, experts worry that the rollout of fully functional, genuine vaccines will lead to their theft and their illegitimate resale on the dark web. In one instance, officials reported that three vials of vaccine mysteriously disappeared from a distribution site. When individuals steal legitimate vaccines, and resell them on the dark web, the danger to other humans only increases. Stolen vaccines may not be stored at the right temperature, may have been tainted, or may pose other types of serious hazards.
Avoid coronavirus vaccine scams
Coronavirus vaccine scams take a variety of different forms. We’ll address a few common signs of scams. Here’s what to watch out for:
- Requests for payment to obtain the vaccine
- Unsolicited advertisements for vaccines
- Vendors interested in shipping doses of the vaccine
- Calls about the vaccine asking for your social security or credit card numbers
Any of these observations or experiences should raise red flags. Individuals should only pursue vaccines from reputable healthcare providers.
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