New Delhi: Amid mounting pressure to be vaccinated with the spike in infectious Delta variant of Covid-19, Israel-based cybersecurity firm Check Point reports that there has been an exponential growth in fake coronavirus vaccine certificates, primarily on Telegram.
The Check Point Research (CPR) has seen a whopping 257 per cent jump in the number of sellers using Telegram, since March, to advertise fake vaccination cards to those "who do not want to take the vaccine".
The advertisements promise the European Union (EU) Digital Covid certificate, and Covid vaccination cards from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the UK National Health Service (NHS), alongside fake PCR Covid-19 tests to anyone willing to pay for as low as $100, down from $200 in March.
The number of group on Telegram that advertises fake vaccination cards have increased by 257 per cent, and CPR estimates that over 2,500 groups are currently active.
Further, the number of followers on the group has also increased by 566 per cent. Groups now have 100,000 followers each on average, with some exceeding over 450,000 followers, the CPR team found.
In March, the majority of the fake coronavirus certificates were advertised on the darknet. The shift to Telegram has helped sellers scale their distribution efforts, reaching more consumers, faster, they said.
"We believe the broader market surge is fueled by the rapidly spreading Delta variant and the stemming urgency for everyone to become vaccinated. In effect, there are people who don't want to take the vaccine, but still want the freedoms that come with proving vaccination. These people are increasingly turning to the darknet and Telegram in scores," said Oded Vanunu, Head of Products Vulnerabilities Research at Check Point, in a statement.
"Since March, prices for fake vaccination cards have dropped by half and online groups for these fraudulent coronavirus services boast followings of hundreds of thousands of people," Vanunu added.
While vaccination certificates for almost every country are available for purchase, the majority are being sold from European countries.
The sellers mostly accept payments through PayPal and cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Monero, Dogecoin, Litecoin, Ethereum and others). In some cases, Steam, Amazon and eBay gift cards are also accepted. They list their method of contact as Telegram, WhatsApp, email, Wickr and Jabber, the CPR team said.
The team advises people not to engage with sellers publishing on such groups or marketplaces published in the Darknet.
Countries must internally manage a central repository of tests and vaccinated people, which can and should securely be shared between relevant authorised only bodies within the country; encrypt all 'green passes' and vaccination certificates, they suggested.