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Booming market for fake COVID-19 vaccine passports sparks alarm

Fake coronavirus vaccine passports are being sold online for “peanuts” in a fast-growing scam that has alarmed authorities as countries bet on the documents to revive travel and their economies, cybersecurity experts said.

From Iceland to Israel, a number of countries have started to lift lockdown restrictions for people who can prove they have been vaccinated—letting them visit leisure venues or cross borders if they show vaccine papers.

“People are trying to circumvent that by creating false documents, essentially putting the lives of others at risk,” Beenu Arora, founder of cyber-intelligence firm Cyble, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an online interview.

“We’ve seen hundreds of websites on the dark web where these documents are being sold … at the price of peanuts,” he said.

The dark web is a part of the internet that lies beyond the reach of search engines, where users are largely anonymous and mainly pay with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

Fake vaccination papers can be bought for as little as $12, Mr. Arora said, adding that the number of listings had mushroomed since the first started appearing in late February.

Oded Vanunu of cybersecurity company Check Point said researchers at the firm had found numerous dark web adverts offering documents purportedly issued in the United States, Russia and other countries.

“There’s a big demand for it,” he said.

Forgeries have also appeared on regular websites and e-commerce platforms, said Chad Anderson, a senior security researcher at online threat intelligence firm DomainTools.
Last week, 45 attorneys general from the United States signed a letter calling on the heads of Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to take immediate action to prevent their platforms from being used to sell fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards.

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