Scammers Are Tricking Anti-Vaxxers Into Buying Bogus Medical Documents

Draper and Proops say the efforts used repeated messaging, often replying to “verified” accounts on X that are linked to anti-vaccination sentiments, and consistently mentioned conspiracy theories such as the “great reset.”

“A lot of it is playing on anti-vaxxers’ vulnerabilities to being paranoid about things like the next pandemic, or other kinds of vaccines, like the measles vaccine,” Draper says.

The Telegram channels, where administrators impersonate doctors, also follow similar patterns to one another. 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 around $250 to $500 each, with payments often being requested in bitcoin. Photos of the documents they claim to sell look similar to the official versions of the documents.

However, the vast majority of countries no longer require proof of vaccination to enter them and haven’t done so for long periods of time—for instance, the UK removed travel restrictions in 2022. “Over time, we started seeing a trend change where it wasn’t just Covid passes,” Proops says. The Telegram channels have offered tuberculosis test results, meningitis vaccine results, and documentation around 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 Logically researchers contacted several doctors who were not aware their identities were being used. One doctor, they say, had not heard of Telegram. Collins says she was not aware of her image being used in this way until she was contacted by Logically and WIRED. She added that her image had also been used on a scam Instagram account.

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

A WIRED review of the Telegram channels still active shows regular posts from administrators and other members. Some of the 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 slurry of well-worn and debunked conspiracy theories.

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