Maharashtra: Covid ‘antidote, vaccine’ on sale on darknet, police probe local link

Written by Mohamed Thaver
| Mumbai |

Updated: May 23, 2020 10:42:44 am

coronavirus, coronavirus vaccine, coronavirus vaccine sale, coronavirus vaccine sale on dark web, maharashtra police, covid 19 in maharashtra, indian express news Screenshot of a post on the darknet selling a Covid-19 vaccine.

“I am a laboratory doctor in Spanish public health. I have obtained 24 blood samples and infected sputum of the new COVID-19. I am willing to sell for a price of $100. I could send tests when payment is made, I ship worldwide by ‘seur refrigerator’ to not let the bacteria die and ensure viral life.”

The darknet marketplace has been swamped by messages on purported Covid-19 “antidotes”, sold in the form of blood samples of patients who have recovered from the disease, since the outbreak of the pandemic. Also, up for sale on the darknet are Covid “detectors” and “vaccines”.

While no vaccine or antiviral for SARS-CoV-2 has been developed yet, and clinical trials of potential Covid-19 drugs are on across the world, Maharashtra police said they have detected several such advertisements and are probing if a local link to the scam.

“We are enquiring about cases where blood of patients, who have recovered from Covid-19, are being sold on the dark web for plasma therapy. Normally, these sellers use proxy servers so it is difficult to find out their exact location. It is a complex investigation but we are checking if there is a local link to it,” Maharashtra IG (cyber) Yashasvi Yadav said.

The term darknet is used to describe parts of the internet that cannot be accessed through traditional search engines, such as Google, and allows users a high degree of anonymity.

While law enforcers across the world are aware of the commerce in Covid-19 “vaccines”, a paper on ‘Availability of Covid-19 related products for darknet markets’, published by the Australian Institute of Criminology last month, found: “Despite the absence of a vaccine for Covid-19 [it] made up about six per cent of all listings.” The paper has looked through listings of nearly 20 marketplaces on the darknet. It also identified common posts such as “Get coronavirus vaccine overnight delivery”, “Covid-19 antidote is here from China”. Some posts, it claims, offer what they claim to be a “breakthrough cure” by Israeli researchers.

Muslim Koser, co-founder of Mumbai-based Volon cybersecurity, said with the disruption in supply chains around the world, people have been looking for alternate means to buy things that are illegal. “Apart from posts on Covid-19 antidotes and vaccines, there are also advertisements on drugs, like heroin and LSD, on the darknet. These are all, however, a scam and once the money is paid, there is no actual supply,” Koser, who tracks the dark web, said.

While generally the darknet is used to sell all kinds of contraband and there is no supervision, “when it comes to claims about vaccines of Covid-19, administrators of marketplaces have been pushing out sellers making fraudulent claims”, Koser added. He cautioned data of several companies, including many from India, were also being sold on the darknet.

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