Italian authorities have suspended a total of 17 public and private messaging channels advertising the sale of illegal COVID-19 vaccination certificates, Italy's Finance Police said Monday.
Authorities monitoring the network identified nine private profiles and eight public channels offering fake "Green Passes" both in digital and paper format.
The prices of the health certificates ranged from €100 to €500, with discounts offered for those purchasing multiple certificates such as the "family package" option.
In some cases, the "Green Pass" could be paid with cryptocurrencies, according to officials investigating the case.
The fake certificates allegedly contained "fully reliable" QR codes to pass the checks by competent authorities, but assistance would be offered in case of problems, as advertised by sellers online.
Italian officials found at least 140,000 users connected to the suspected channels, amid an investigation to crackdown on false certifications across the continent, as European leaders ramp up security measures to tackle the surge of the coronavirus and the new Omicron variant.
The number of online profiles seeking to sell fake "Green Passes" has increased recently after the Italian government extended the certificate mandate for travel services and recreational activities.
"The COVID-19 certificate, showing the holder has been vaccinated or tested negative for the coronavirus, can only be issued by the Ministry of Health and cannot be sold online," Italian authorities warned, adding that a criminal investigation is underway.
Several countries in Europe have made or are looking to make the vaccine pass mandatory for accessing public transport and non-essential services.
Meanwhile, in France, it will be necessary to enter bars, restaurants, theatres, and cinemas from January 15, if the move is approved by the French Parliament.
The measure was confirmed during an emergency meeting between Prime Minister Jean Castex and his government on Monday.
More than 104,000 coronavirus infections were recorded on Christmas Day, the highest number recorded in the country since the pandemic began.
However, vaccine hesitancy is also prompting the sale of fake certificates in France.
Earlier this month, French authorities said they have detected more than 180,000 fake passes since the certificates were first issued this summer.