COVID: Gangs Busted Selling Negative Test Certificates, Fake Vaccines

Published: 04 February 2021

vaccine-4946480 640The pandemic has created a raft of opportunities for fraudsters and organized criminals. (Photo: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay, License)

By Jullet Pineda Sleinan

As the pandemic continues to rage, international authorities are gaining traction in their pursuit of corona-related criminality, with French and British police both recently dismantling forgery rings selling fake negative test certificates, and Chinese and Mexican authorities apprehending fraudsters selling fake vaccines.

Europol said on Monday that the sale of fraudulent COVID-19 certificates dates back to at least December last year, when Spanish police arrested a fraudster for selling fake COVID-19 test certificates for 40 euros ($48), significantly less than the average price of a legitimate test at a private center.

"As long as travel restrictions remain in place due to the pandemic, it is very likely that criminals will seize the opportunity of producing and selling fake COVID-19 test certificates," the agency said.

Europol's statement comes after many European countries have tightened flying bans to contain the spread of the virus. Some states have curbed non-essential travel, while others have enforced national lockdowns.

The UK’s National Health System (NHS) has also noted an uptick in COVID-related crimes, with people reporting both counterfeit vaccine sales and potential cyber frauds from sites mimicking the NHS page in order to trick users into registering personal details.

In recent days, British authorities have issued several warnings reminding citizens the vaccine is available via the state healthcare system free of charge, and that any request from the NHS for payment should therefore be disregarded as a scam.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities reported they had detained 80 people for selling fake COVID-19 vaccines in Beijing and the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong. State news agency Xinhua said police seized 3,000 saline-filled syringes advertised at high mark-up prices, adding that the illegal sales began September last year.

Mexico recently warned about the sale of illicit and potentially harmful COVID-19 vaccines on social media, while Ecuadorian police shut down a clandestine clinic for administering shots without any authorization.

Last December, Interpol issued a global alert to law enforcement warning about the threats of organized crime engaging in fraudulent vaccine sales, scams, theft and forgeries of COVID-19 testing kits and masks.

“It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine,” said its secretary Jürgen Stock in a statement.

OCCRP recently published a story examining the boom in cybercriminal activity during the pandemic.