By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – With COVID-19 vaccines in short supply, some people are looking for ways to cut the line. Experts say scammers are taking advantage of that, selling supposed COVID vaccines for hundreds, even thousands of dollars, and sending unsolicited vaccine ads to email inboxes.

One of the vaccine ads CBS4 Investigates found online (credit: CBS4)

CBS4 Investigates found hundreds of ads on a dark website, claiming to sell both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, asking for anywhere from $250 to $1,000 to be paid in Bitcoins.

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On another dark website, CBS4 Investigates found a group claiming to be research organization in China, offering to ship vaccines in exchange for a Bitcoin donation, saying there will be instructions in the package on how to do the injection.

Someone on the dark web, claiming to be a research group, says they will ship the COVID-19 vaccines for a Bitcoin donation. (credit: CBS4)

CBS4 Investigates contacted one of the sellers of the supposed vaccines on the dark web. The seller said they could sell 20 vials for $500. The seller also claimed they had a friend at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who was able to get a “large quantity” of the vaccines to sell.

CBS4 Investigates did not pay any money for the supposed vaccines.

One company did, however.

Maya Levine with Check Point Software Technologies, a cybersecurity company, says she made an offer on one of the dark web ads and paid the seller in Bitcoins.

“And then nothing, nothing ever arrived, the seller deleted their account after a few days, and we really do believe that this is probably the majority of what these ads are selling, which is either nothing or a fake vaccine,” Levine said.

Levine said her company has seen a big increase in vaccine ads on the dark web since the pandemic began.

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“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen more and more ads on the dark web selling vaccines,” Levine said. “Way back in May there was just one. In December there was quite a few, and in January there’s been a 400% increase.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser recently issued an advisory warning Coloradans of vaccine scams. He said his office has heard of scammers sending vaccine sale advertisements to Coloradans via text messages and emails.

CBS4 Investigator Kati Weis interviews Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (credit: CBS4)

“I’m saddened to be reminded that there are scammers out there looking to make money when people are desperate – scammers will prey on your hopes and your fears, and it’s a perfect storm, which is that people are afraid of getting the virus,” Weiser said. “I would strongly recommend you not take it, because it’s probably not legitimate… so don’t do it, because it’s a waste of your time, it’s taking your money, and it could hurt your health.”

He says real COVID-19 vaccines are free, and scammers caught trying to sell a vaccine could face a fine of up to $50,000.

“If we can figure out where you are, who you are, we will come after you,” Weiser said. “We need people acting responsibly, particularly during a public health emergency, and this is the opposite of that.”

Weiser said his office has not yet fined anyone for a vaccine sale scam, however, he needs the help of the public to track down scammers taking advantage of the current environment.

If you have come across a vaccine sale ad, Weiser encourages you to report it to his office by clicking here.

As for those who might be thinking about trying to buy a vaccine to cut the line — Weiser has some advice for them.

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“Don’t do it,” Weiser said. “Trying to buy these vaccines is just buying yourself a headache, and a world of hurt; they will take your money, they will take your identity, they will send you something that isn’t legitimate and can hurt you.”

Kati Weis