Scammers who fooled anti-vaxxers into paying up to $500 in bitcoin for dodgy COVID-19 vaccine passes have reportedly raked in more than $280,000 in crypto, reports WIRED.
Researchers at disinformation detection company Logically found over a thousand accounts on X (formerly Twitter) luring anti-vaxxers into Telegram channels where fake doctors attempt to sell various fraudulent medical documents.
Logically claims that the anti-vaxxer scam network, stretching back to at least June 2022, has reached over 3 million people, made 62,000 posts, and processed $286,000 in crypto.
One scam group reportedly sells COVID-related travel passes for anywhere between $250 and $500 in bitcoin. Others play on anti-vaxxers’ “vulnerabilities to being paranoid about things like the next pandemic, or other kinds of vaccines” to offer false tuberculosis, tetanus, or polio results.
Of the 60 Telegram channels selling fake documents, 25 contain admins using a “Dr.” prefix, and 13 channels reportedly use the likeness of real medical professionals. One channel calls itself a “coalition of doctors” and its owner uses the name of a real plastic surgeon with roughly 50,000 social media followers.
A Texas-based doctor being impersonated by the scammers told WIRED, “When people are able to take that likeness and use it for bad purposes, whether it’s fraud, whether it’s misinformation, I think it’s really scary.” They added that scammers can now use AI to make fake videos, making it “really hard for an average person to sort out if this is a fake account or not.”
Researchers claim it’s unlikely any buyers receive the documents they purchase and the operation is likely financially motivated.