Amidst a global pandemic, criminals have found a lucrative gold mine in supplying counterfeit medication, tests, fake cures. Recently, they have turned to negative COVID-19 test certificates. The new target market for these counterfeit certificates is eager travelers who do not want to take a legitimate test or who want to conceal a legitimate positive test.
Several factors have contributed to this lucrative criminal behavior.
The rise of COVID-19 fake certificates
Despite many countries experiencing the second and third waves of the coronavirus, some countries partially or fully opened their borders to international tourisms. This has come with restrictions or requirements.
Most commonly, countries require that travelers present a negative COVID-19 test within 48-72 hours before travel. In addition, some airlines require that passengers present a negative COVID-19 certificate or take a test before boarding the plane.
These measures are in place to support global initiatives to fight COVID-19 while supporting economic recovery in the hard-hit travel industry.
However, criminals and travelers alike found ways to circumvent these regulations by either forging or purchasing negative COVID-19 certificates.
Factors fueling the black market for COVID-19 certificates
Some of the factors fueling the black market for COVID-19 certificates include:
Since the global spread of the coronavirus, the demand for testing has been high. This demand increased with the resumption of international travel and the requirements that travelers provide proof of not having the virus.
Asymptomatic people are more likely to be the least prioritized. This can lead to delays in their testing, especially for travelers from high-risk areas.
When people have to wait too long or drive too far to get a legitimate test, they are more likely to fall into the temptation of acquiring an easy counterfeit certificate.
· Difficulties in obtaining health documents
For one traveler from Britain who wanted to travel to Pakistan, obtaining a legitimate test proved difficult. Dealers of fake certificates provide the needed certificates signed as coming from legitimate institutions that are trustworthy to airlines. But their “service” to travelers is a dangerous, even fatal, disservice to the world.
· Ready availability of counterfeit certificates
The WHO, in a recent article, noted that a thriving black market exists in Harare, Zimbabwe, providing fake certificates to travelers heading to Zambia. South Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya also issued a warning to its citizens of forged COVID-19 certificates going at half the price of legitimate tests.
These are not the only places with readily available fake negative COVID-19 certificates. French authorities arrested a group of counterfeiter selling these certificates at an airport. Similarly, Bangladeshi authorities arrested a hospital owner for providing more than 6,000 COVID-19 certificates without testing the recipients.
· Ready and willing buyers
The booming sales of fake negative COVID-19 would not exist if people were unwilling to purchase counterfeit products from the black market. Buyers are willing to buy these certificates for reasons such as:
- Avoiding the uncertainty of being turned back because they lack a certificate
- Insufficient time to take the test, especially with emergency travels
- People with positive COVID-19 tests who still want to travel
What is being done
Governments have criminalized the sale and use of fake COVID-19 certificates in an attempt to curb these illegal sales. For example, the Russian government makes it illegal to produce, sell, or use counterfeit COVID-19 certificates. However, governments and airlines still struggle to manage the flood of COVID-19 certificates and to distinguish the fake from the real.