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Fake COVID-19 certificate sales rise as health passes become mandatory

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By Giorgia Orlandi  & Josephine Joly
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A person uses a pass verification application on a smartphone to check a health pass displayed on a smartphone in Amneville, eastern France, on July 22, 2021.
A person uses a pass verification application on a smartphone to check a health pass displayed on a smartphone in Amneville, eastern France, on July 22, 2021.   -   Copyright  JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP
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With COVID-19 certificates becoming mandatory around the world, some people are turning to social platforms like Telegram to buy fake health passes, at a cost of around €100.

In just a few months, accounts selling photoshopped certificates that are being delivered via email have grown in number in Europe and around the world, triggering an increase in cyber-crime, experts at the cybersecurity company Check Point have said.

“They can photoshop it and they can start selling it with appropriate information. Scammers and channels on Telegram are very responsive: they ask you all the questions, details, etc. Everything that you want to put on the certificate,” Oded Vanunu, the head of products vulnerability at Check Point Software Technologies, told Euronews.

Italy, as well as other European countries, have introduced smartphone apps to verify whether a certificate is authentic or not, but that might not be enough.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the popularity of these channels has increased. The overall number of sellers has gone from around 20 to 1,500 between March and December 2020 with the number of subscribers also growing fast, according to experts at Check Point.

Channels keep changing their offers to keep up with the latest rules being imposed by national governments.

Unvaccinated people are the category the more likely to buy fake health passes, with people with just one dose of the vaccine coming into second.

"And let’s not forget there are billions of people around the world who didn’t manage to get vaccinated,” Oded Vanunu added.

Demand for fake health passes skyrocketing in Europe

Italy’s Head of National Cyber Crime Unit warns that it will be extremely difficult to get away with a fake QR code to access events or places.

“On one hand, legal health passes contain a QR code that includes a computer-generated certification that proves its authenticity. On the other hand, you have an app that allows users to compare information contained in that QR code with the national database containing data on vaccinated people. That’s why it’s impossible to create a fake QR code,” Ivano Gabrielli, head of the national cybercrime unit in Italy, told Euronews.

But despite national prevention systems being efficient, tracking this type of fraud has become extremely challenging, especially when it comes to international travel.

Border control authorities lack an international database of vaccinated people around the world: something that has taken the fight against COVID-19 to a larger scale.

Watch the full video report in the player above.