By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — With more than 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine now administered across the United States, the opportunities for bad actors to intercept vaccines are on the rise.

Last month CBS 2 exposed the world of con artists marketing COVID-19 vaccines on the dark web, capitalizing on fear and scarcity of the vaccine across the globe. Cyber security experts warned it would only get worse.

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“It’s a big relief,” said Diane Campbell, who has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Carisa Mitchell agrees.

“I feel relieved,” she said.

Millions of Americans are searching for that same relief, and anonymous buyers on the dark web are taking advantage of the fear by marketing what they claim to be life-saving COVID vaccines “available now and going fast.”

“I didn’t want to die,” said Campbell. 

Last month, cyber security expert Mark Ostrowski warned that the majority of these ads appear to be completely bogus, but now there’s the possibility that real vaccines are being sold

“Definitely seems more plausible just because that number is growing so large,” said Ostrowski, head of engineering at Check Point. “You know we talk about 100 million. If 10s of thousands get misplaced or misdirected it seems more plausible compared to the numbers are a lot smaller.”

Ads are up about 33% since Ostrowski last spoke with CBS 2. The majority of sellers are now originating in the U.S., United Kingdom and Germany, according to their research.

Ostrowski said that like clockwork — as soon as the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine was approved — J&J ads started popping up on the dark web.   

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One ad says no extreme cold storage is need and buyers can get the vaccine for only $20 via FedEx or DHL but have to pay with bitcoin.

“If you’re being asked for bitcoin for your vaccine you’re probably going down the wrong path,” said Ostrowski. 

He said it is not just the dark web ads that worry him: They’re also tracking phishing scams related to the vaccine. But these can be found through a regular internet browser.

Ostrowski’s team found a hacker who designed a website impersonating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an attempt to heist Microsoft credentials. Interested vaccine hunters type in their usernames and passwords thinking it will take them to information about how to get the vaccine. But instead, their logins are stolen.

Ostrowski said don’t click the links in unsolicited emails. Head straight to the official website to avoid scams like these.

Ultimately, while it’s tempting to cut the line, back alley or dark web deals are not worth it.

“They could be receiving something that’s fraudulent or misleading,” Ostrowski said. “You really want to have a good source of proper information because we’re talking about a serious thing. We’re talking about health and the welfare of all of us.”

North Carolina’s Attorney General recently said his office is now aware of vaccines being trafficked on the dark web, saying they will hold offenders accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

CBS 2 reached out to Illinois’s Attorney General’s office to see if they are tracking these kinds of transactions. A spokesperson said so far they have not received any complaints but they encourage people to be alert for scams related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

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You can report possible scams online at the Illinois Attorney Genera’s website.

Megan Hickey