Scam Artists Using Social Media To Market Illegal Sales of COVID-19 Vaccines to U.S. Consumers
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The extreme demand and limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines has created a marketplace of shady operators trying to sell coronavirus "vaccines" on social media platforms to U.S. consumers. New research released today by the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) and the Coalition for a Safer Web (CSW) found sellers, based both in the U.S. and internationally, offering to illegally sell COVID-19 vaccines on Facebook and Telegram.
The report, "A Shot from the Darkest Corners of the Internet," shares conversations researchers had with sellers, including one correspondence that started on Telegram and ended with payment for the purchase of one vial of "vaccine." The report also includes examples of how sellers have developed strategies to work around Facebook's COVID-19 misinformation defenses to offer vaccines made by Sinovac, a Chinese company. The Facebook posts never say they are selling the vaccine, but instead strongly imply the possibility to consumers and encourage further correspondence to get more details.
"The thirst for COVID-19 vaccines creates a fertile ground for scam artists on the internet to do what they do best -- prey on fears to sell hope to the hopeless," said Tom Galvin, executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance. "As we have seen so many other times, criminals and scammers continuously fid ways to get past the limited protections deployed by Facebook and others. These activities put consumers at risk. The questions for us still remain: Are these social media companies that are at the forefront of a wide range of emerging technologies unable to stop illegal and/or illicit activities? Or are they just unwilling?"
Sellers were less subtle on Telegram, where researchers conversed with people who offered vaccines from the same pages where they pushed dangerous narcotics like Percocet and Oxycodone. A DCA researcher actually paid for a supposed vial of COVID-19 "vaccine" for $175 using PayPal. The seller, who said he was shipping the "vaccine" from Richmond, Virginia., claimed that the vial was in transit to DCA.
Twelve days after initial payment, DCA researchers received an email asking for an additional $150 in gift cards, cryptocurrency, MoneyGram, PayPal or bank transfer to cover insurance costs in order for the package to clear the "Aviation Commission" rules and regulations. Upon further investigation, it appears that the "seller" has created an elaborate scheme which includes what appears to be the creation of a website for a logistics company named DeltaAir Express. The website seems to include a fake package tracking mechanism on the site to convince buyers they will receive legitimate packages. The DeltaAir Express website references its founding in 1972, but a WhoIs search revealed the site was created in December 2020, a tell-tale sign that it was created to exploit the extreme demand for COVID-19 vaccinations.
"For all of Facebook's bravado about how well it prevents the sale of illegal drugs, our report confirms once again that Facebook is not enforcing its own rules," said CSW President Mark Ginsberg. "Telegram's enabling of such illegal vaccine sales reaffirms the validity of CSW's twin lawsuits against Apple and Google to compel Telegram to cease violating U.S. laws."
CSW is suing Apple for failure to remove Telegram from its App Store. CSW believes that Telegram refuses to crackdown on violent, extremist conversations and should be removed from the App Store, similar to the way that Apple removed Parler.
"Once again, this is a failure by Facebook to monitor their platform for illegal activity that could put lives at risk," said CSW's Eric Feinberg, the lead investigator on this research. "Facebook claimed it removed posts offering questionable marketplaces offering PPE, COVID remedies and vaccines. This research shows either Facebook can be fooled, or Facebook just doesn't care."
The full "A Shot from the Darkest Corners of the Internet" report can be accessed at https://www.digitalcitizensalliance.org/clientuploads/directory/Reports/A_Shot_from_the_Darkest_Corner_of_the_Internet_Report.pdf.
About Digital Citizens Alliance
Based in Washington, DC, the Digital Citizens Alliance counts among its supporters: private citizens, the health, pharmaceutical and creative industries as well as online safety experts and other communities focused on Internet safety. Visit us at digitalcitizensalliance.org.
About The Coalition for a Safer Web
For more information, please contact Adam Benson at 202.999.9104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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SOURCE Digital Citizens Alliance; Coalition for a Safer Web