Image: Check Point Research

In an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, President Joe Biden proposed new mandates on Thursday that would require federal workers, health care professionals and people working at businesses with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated. There was a quick reaction from many segments of society. But one segment in particular immediately burst into action, namely cybercriminals selling fake vaccine cards on the Dark Web.

SEE: COVID vaccination policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Phony vaccine certificates have been a hot item for sale in underground criminal forums throughout the world. But they’ve grown in popularity lately as proof of vaccination is becoming a greater requirement among schools, businesses, hospitals, governments and other organizations. New York City will now require a valid vaccine certificate for people looking to get into restaurants, gyms, theaters and other venues.

This requirement has put the anti-vax crowd in a lurch, leading to a market for fake vaccine cards.

Quickly following the president’s mandate announcement, the price of a phony CDC vaccination card shot up from $100 to $200, Check Point Research said on Friday. The number of Dark Web sellers hawking such counterfeit certificates skyrocketed from around 1,000 to more than 10,000.

“As the Biden White House announced further vaccination guidelines, Check Point Research took a fresh look at the black market since our last update on Aug. 10, 2021,” said Check Point spokesperson Ekram Ahmed. “The growth of the black market for fake vaccination cards has been exponential. The price for a fake CDC card has doubled. We estimate that the number of sellers on this black market have gone up by 10 times.”

Sellers of these illegal cards have also organized themselves into groups using the Telegram messaging app, which offers end-to-end encryption. After Biden’s announcement, the number of sellers in these groups shot up from around 15,000 to around 85,000, according to Check Point’s analysis.

In January, the phony vaccine card sales occurred mostly on the Dark Web, where you needed special software to access them, Ahmed said. At that time, the market was aimed at dealers who could sell the fake items in large quantities across specific regions around the world. But over the past several months many sellers have shifted this black market to Telegram. Criminal vendors gravitate to Telegram for its anonymity, reach and scale.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Sellers of these phony cards also know exactly how to exploit the propaganda and conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus vaccine.

One ad for a fake certificate falsely proclaims: “Covid Vaccine creates Multi System Inflammatory Syndrome in children. 4000 cases already confirmed. More vaccine cards for you and your children without getting jabbed.”

Image: Check Point Research

Another ad claims: “The Supreme Court in The US Has Ruled That The Covid Pathogen Is Not a Vaccine, Is Unsafe, And Must Be Avoided At All Costs—Supreme Court has canceled universal vax. Always avoid any covid vaccine none is good for your health.”

Image: Check Point Research

What the ads don’t mention is that trying to use a phony vaccine card in a public venue is a crime, as explained by the FBI. Many people have already been arrested trying to pull off such a stunt, which carries with it fines of several thousand dollars and as many as five years in prison.

Still, as more venues start requiring proof of vaccination, the marketplace for fake vaccine cards is likely to expand even further.

“Our expectation is that the black market for fake coronavirus vaccination cards will continue to thrive as more policy requiring vaccination proof gets rolled out,” Ahmed said.