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Fake COVID-19 health passes are being sold on Snapchat in France

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By Matthew Holroyd with AFP
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The App Store page for Snapchat is displayed on a mobile phone.
The App Store page for Snapchat is displayed on a mobile phone.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Amr Alfiky, File
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Dozens of counterfeit Snapchat accounts are selling fake COVID-19 health certificates to users in France.

The accounts claim that they can provide false health passes "in hours," an investigation by AFP has found.

The fake certificates have been promoted to French citizens who do not want a coronavirus vaccine but want to take advantage of COVID-19 health passes.

"Vaccination becomes optional thanks to our service," one account on Snapchat read.

Last month, France approved making the health pass mandatory for citizens to visit bars, restaurants, and places of culture where more than 50 people gather.

People who also want to visit large shopping centres or travel on certain modes of transport will need to prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, have recovered from the virus, or have tested negative. Similar measures have since been introduced in other EU member states.

But the move has drawn thousands of demonstrators to the streets across Europe, and criminals have sought to take advantage by selling fake certificates and promising to register people as fully vaccinated in France's Health Insurance database.

On Snapchat, Euronews found a number of counterfeit accounts by simply searching for the phrase "faux pass sanitaire" ("fake health pass").

Under its community guidelines, Snapchat says it prohibits "the promotion and use of certain regulated goods, as well as the depiction or promotion of criminal activities."

In a statement to Euronews, a spokesperson for the platform said they were "acting aggressively" against these violations of their policies.

Snapchat - Euronews
A number of accounts were openly named "Faux Pass Sanitaire" ("Fake Health Pass").Snapchat - Euronews

Many of the fake accounts on Snapchat had only been set up within a few days and promised to send users a fake health pass "within 8 to 10 hours maximum".

According to the AFP investigation, accounts only asked users for their name, national insurance number, email and postal address to receive the fake certificate.

"I send your information to my supplier doctor who registers you on ameli.fr and TousAntiCovid," one counterfeiter said.

Prices for a fake health pass vary from €140 to €350, AFP journalists found, but some users are not even asked for any bank account or credit card information.

Some sellers only demand payment for the fake certificate after the user has received it, but others boast that they have "a well-established reputation" in selling fake COVID-19 documents.

Such counterfeiters face up to five years imprisonment and a €150,000 fine in France, while those buying the fake passes can be imprisoned for up to three years.

Since May, French Health Insurance authorities say they have received 46 police requests over forged or fake COVID-19 health passes.

Meanwhile, a doctor in the western region of Gironde filed a complaint on Thursday after discovering that his profile had been used for 55 false coronavirus vaccine certificates.

In Italy, counterfeit accounts have also tried to sell fake COVID-19 certificates on the popular messaging platform, Telegram, for around €100 each.

A number of European countries have introduced smartphone apps to verify whether a certificate is authentic or not, to try and combat criminals.

The EU’s law enforcement agency Europol said it is also supporting law enforcement authorities across the continent.

From the start of the pandemic, "criminals have preyed on people’s fears in order to make fast cash," added Interpol’s secretary-general Jürgen Stock.

"The networks behind these crimes have global ambitions. No country or region can fight this type of crime alone."

A spokesperson for Snapchat said that they had worked to ensure it is difficult for criminals to market illegal materials to a wide audience on their platform.

"For us, nothing is more important than the safety of Snapchat users and we have zero tolerance for the use of Snapchat for illicit purposes, including the buying or selling of fake documents such as fake PCR test results or fake COVID-19 vaccination certificates," a statement read.

"We try to be as proactive as possible in detecting, preventing, and acting against this type of abuse - but we know that traffickers are constantly evolving in the way they try to evade the rules on many platforms."

"We are constantly improving our ability to combat these illegal activities and to raise awareness of the dangers of such activities."

The spokesperson also said that Snapchat has made it easy for users to report concerns confidentially, which allows the platform to investigate any issues and work with law enforcement.