Brits are increasingly looking to buy vaccines online

Interest in skipping the queue by getting the vaccine online increased by 136% in January

While governments are phasing in COVID-19 vaccines based on risk and exposure criteria, Brits are looking to skip the queue and get the vaccine through unofficial channels. In January, queries of phrases “buy covid vaccine” and “covid vaccine online” doubled. Research by cybersecurity company NordVPN shows the search volumes having grown since December by 136% and 97%, respectively.

Most queries for “covid vaccine online” are coming from Wales. While the rest of the UK does show a similar interest in getting the vaccine online, it is twice lower than in Wales.

The vaccines are being distributed to governments and not available for purchase from private entities. However, people are eager to get their jabs as soon as possible, looking for vaccines under the counter. According to media reports, the widespread vaccine distribution may not begin until early autumn.

A feast for scammers

Wherever there is demand, fraudsters’ reaction is swift. Sadly, those who will try to get the COVID-19 vaccine under the counter will fall victim to a scam.

According to Bleeping Computer, 40 cybercriminal gangs in Europe earned at least $6.5M impersonating popular classifieds, marketplaces, and delivery services. The Australian National University discovered 645 COVID-19 listings across 12 dark web markets in a single day.

People should be suspicious of any vaccine ads and offers they find online. Losing one’s money is the least that might happen — injecting a poisonous substance is a much greater risk.

First of all, be cautious, follow the official information, and avoid anything that resembles a black market. But scammers may go further than just placing their offers on the dark web. They will send emails and texts as well as promote their “offers” on social media. Do not fall for fake promises. Besides, when you get a message inviting you to take a vaccine, be sure not to click on lookalike domains with spelling errors, like nhs.uk.

What to expect from online fraudsters in the nearest future?

Bad actors usually exploit fears or feed the need for urgency. Once more and more people get vaccinated, the gears will shift to exploit the fears attached to the vaccine’s side effects. People who got the official jab might get informed they have received a potentially dangerous vaccine. They might be prompted to register for a “check-up” to make sure they are not developing some additional disease.

Methodology: NordVPN researchers used Google’s search term analysis tools for terms “buy covid vaccine” and “covid vaccine online”. The analysis was based on search volumes in the last 12 months the keyphrases started gaining significant traction in November. Time frame: January 14, 2020-January 14, 2021.

A digital privacy enthusiast and an internet security expert at NordVPN.