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Anti-Vaxxers Trying to Secure Fake Vaccine Certificates Fall Victim to Scammers Posing as Doctors

Fraudulent networks on Telegram, impersonating doctors, are preying on anti-vax sentiments, selling fake Covid-19 vaccination certificates and medical records. The alarming trend involves around 60 channels, reaching over 3 million people, prompting concerns about global truat in health systems.
Clinical support technician Douglas Condie extracts viruses | Getty Images | Photo by Jane Barlow
Clinical support technician Douglas Condie extracts viruses | Getty Images | Photo by Jane Barlow
Frontline worker, checking for Covid-19 | Getty Images | Photo by Peter Dazeley
Frontline worker, checking for Covid-19 | Getty Images | Photo by Peter Dazeley

The anti-vax sentiment that is fueled by fake news about covid-19 vaccines, has plagued the world in its fight against the virus. But after the pandemic, the aversion to vaccines has caught the attention of another set of shady players, who are posing as doctors to exploit anti-vax tendencies. In a disturbing trend, scammers are capitalizing on anti-vax sentiments, using Telegram to impersonate doctors and peddle fraudulent Covid-19 vaccination certificates. The scheme involves a network of approximately 60 Telegram channels, with administrators posing as medical professionals and fraudulently using names and photographs of legitimate doctors. This disinformation campaign has been active since at least June 2022, and has reached more than 3 million people through close to 62,000 posts on social media platforms.

The scammers strategically adopt a "Dr." prefix in their usernames on Telegram, which is enough for them to use alongside the details and pictures of genuine doctors to add an air of legitimacy to their illicit operations. The extent of the impersonation is exemplified by the unauthorized use of Dr. Kristina Collins' image, a Texas-based dermatologist, on the scam channels. Collins was shocked to find out about the misuse of her likeness for spreading misinformation and fraudulent activities, and expressed concern about the same.

Researchers at Logically, a UK-based disinformation detection company, unearthed the network that not only sells fake Covid-19 vaccination certificates but also offers a range of other medical documents. The scam involves redirecting anti-vaxxers from the social media platform X to Telegram, where they subscribe to channels purporting to offer verifiable medical records. The channels claim to sell pandemic-related travel passes and medical documents related to diseases beyond Covid-19. Basically, the fraudsters are scamming anti-vaxxers who are trying to defraud the authorities with fake certificates.

Telegram communications app | Getty Images | Photo by Smith Collection
Telegram communications app | Getty Images | Photo by Smith Collection

After initially focusing on Covid-related passes, the fraudulent channels have expanded their offerings to include documentation for tuberculosis tests, meningitis vaccines, and other health-related records. Even though a majority of the countries globally do not require proof of vaccination for entry any longer, the scammers manage to lure people with their persistent efforts, requesting payments often in bitcoin, ranging from $250 to $500 per document.

While there is no evidence to support the legitimacy of the documents being sold, the researchers emphasize the financial motivation behind the scam. The continued existence of these channels could potentially erode trust in healthcare systems globally and undermine efforts to combat misinformation. The impact extends beyond immediate financial gains, as the network could be repurposed for future deceptive activities.

In a digital landscape evolving with artificial intelligence, concerns arise about the ease with which scammers can exploit individuals by creating sophisticated fake accounts and videos.

The ongoing battle against misinformation also sheds light on the need for heightened vigilance and collaborative efforts to protect individuals from falling prey to scams and maintain trust in essential institutions. Apart from this anti-vaxxers need to be rescued from the clutches of misinformation that leave them vulnerable to even more shady schemes.