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Scammers Are Tricking Anti-Vaxxers Into Buying Bogus Medical Documents

by Elijah
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“A lot of it plays on the vulnerability of anti-vaxxers to be paranoid about things like the next pandemic, or other types of vaccines, like the measles vaccine,” says Draper.

The Telegram channels, where administrators pose as doctors, also follow similar patterns. Many of the channels have names related to Covid-19 vaccinations, and they claim to sell pandemic-related travel passes, allowing people to enter the UK, US, Canada and other countries. They can sell the passes for about $250 to $500 each, often requiring payment in bitcoin. Photos of the documents they claim to be selling resemble the official versions of the documents.

However, the vast majority of countries no longer require proof of vaccination for entry and have not done so for a long time. For example, Britain has lifted travel restrictions in 2022. “Over time we started to see a change in trend where it wasn’t just Covid passes,” says Proops. The Telegram channels have offered tuberculosis test results, meningitis vaccine results and documentation on hepatitis A and B, tetanus, polio and more, he says.

The researchers say they believe doctors are being impersonated to give the scammers a veneer of legitimacy. The Logica researchers contacted several doctors who were unaware that their identities were being used. One doctor, they say, had never heard of Telegram. Collins says she was unaware her image was being used in this way until she was contacted by Logically and WIRED. She added that her image had also been used on a fraudulent Instagram account.

Since researchers started monitoring the X accounts and Telegram channels last year, many of the accounts and channels have been deleted by the social media companies; however, about half of Telegram channels are still active. Neither Telegram nor X responded to WIRED’s request for comment on the accounts and whether Telegram was aware of the doctor impersonation.

A WIRED overview of the still active Telegram channels regularly shows messages from administrators and other members. Some channels have only a few hundred members; others have a few thousand. The administrators of some channels have been inactive for several months. Within the channels is a mixture of worn-out and debunked conspiracy theories.

One still-active channel bills itself as a “coalition of doctors” that can provide people with “real registered documentation” for those traveling to the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and 15 EU countries. The channel’s owner uses the name of a legitimate US-based plastic surgeon who has approximately 50,000 followers on social media, and a photo of another doctor. Draper says people within the communities are “sharing photos of the side effects of the vaccine and spreading fear about the future impact of lockdowns.”

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