Avoiding the sting of a fake COVID vaccine

It seems that there doesn’t seem to be a week rolling by at the moment without a new COVID-19 vaccine being ready for distribution after completing initial trials. As of the end of February there are vaccines being used produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna with the Novavax and Johnson & Johnson versions close to being available. This is fantastic news in the crusade to vaccinate as many people as possible so we can all return to as normal a life as possible.

In the UK we have been living under full or partial lockdown for almost a year. That has had a huge impact on everyone both physically and mentally. Over 100,000 lives have been lost and countless families have been impacted. Thousands of businesses have been forced to close and unemployment continues to rise as a result. Therefore, the demand for the vaccination is growing all the time.

That vacuum created by the increasing demand and the scarce supply of vaccinations is being filled, to some extent by fraudsters who are targeting the most vulnerable and needy with offers to buy the vaccine now rather than wait for it to be administered for free based on the health authorities prioritisation list.

Bolster, the fraud prevention company published a report last week that looked at the rise in domain name registrations from the past year that featured the worlds ‘vaccine’ and ‘COVID’. Almost 12,500 domain names were registered with those keywords in 2020. A large number will be genuine, with some firms registering domain names featuring relevant keywords to let customers know what they are doing about the pandemic.

In the last 7 days there have been over 650 domain names registered that start with the word “covid” according to a search through Domainpunch.com, whilst there is almost 800 more that have the word somewhere in the domain name, across a variety of TLDs. There are also nearly 150 domain names featuring the word “covid” in the 1 million most popular websites in the world.

There have been calls to stop any registrations of domain names featuring such keywords, with NameCheap being one registrar who have placed restrictions on the registration of certain keywords relating to the pandemic. However, it is still far too easy for an opportunist to register a domain name and set up a website – for instance the domain name novavax.shop was registered on the day of the announcement of the rollout of that vaccine and a “coming soon” website lander added.

Domain registrations that contain the names of the manufacturers of vaccines such as”Pfizer” and “BioNTech” have increased since March 2020 – domain names referencing the two companies rose from just 13 in January 2020 to 343 in December 2020. In the case of Moderna, Bolster found 3,596 new domain registrations in 2020. rising from 114 in January 2020 to over 500 in December.

It isn’t just vaccines that are being fraudulently offered. Vaccine appointments for cash, fake home testing kits and miracle cures are still all too easy to find. With little return on investment required, fraudsters can quickly make a profit from unsuspecting and often desperate victims.

There are no shortcuts or alternative drugs. Whilst the roll-out and distribution of millions of vaccines is a logistical headache for all governments, it will happen. Patience is the key and if you do come across any offers that look too good to be true, they undoubtedly will be and could potentially do you more harm than good.

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