Criminal rings sell fake COVID test certificates at airports: police warn

Neither Canada Border Services Agency nor Health Canada would say whether false COVID-19 test certificates have been found in Canada

Adrian Humphreys 4 minute read February 2, 2021

As if there isn’t enough worry over international travel and emerging variants of COVID-19, European police are warning that fraudulent test certificates are being sold to international travellers to skirt pandemic restrictions.

Illicit sales of fake certificates declaring passengers have tested negative for COVID-19 have been uncovered in Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands, resulting in arrests, including some inside airports.

Canada, like several countries, require arriving air passengers to provide proof of a negative pre-departure test before entry to curtail the spread of COVID-19. As virus variants emerge, more countries are requiring official COVID-free declarations from travellers.

Neither Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) nor Health Canada would say whether false COVID-19 test certificates have been found in Canada.

CBSA did say officers are watching for them.

“Border services officers are designated screening officers under the Quarantine Act and therefore have the authority to review, challenge and confirm travellers’ statements and direct them to a quarantine officer,” said Mark Stuart, a CBSA spokesman.

“Before making a decision on whether or not to allow a traveller to enter Canada, they review and consider each traveller’s unique circumstances, the purpose of the trip and the documents presented at the time of entry.”

There were social media complaints over the weekend of passengers arriving in Alberta being detained despite having negative test certificates. At least one of those cases involved a woman having the wrong test done.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said criminals are prepared to profit from any opportunity regardless of the potential health and safety costs.

“The detection of fake COVID-19 negative test certificates confirms that criminals — be it organized crime groups or individual opportunistic scammers — seize profitable opportunities once they arise,” said Europol’s intelligence alert issued Monday.

“As long as travel restrictions remain in place due to the COVID-19 situation, it is highly likely that production and sales of fake test certificates will prevail.”

The latest known arrest in a certificate scam in Europe was Jan. 22 in Britain’s London Luton Airport. The airport, north of London, hosts flights to cities in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, several of which require travellers to have proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter.

The man was arrested for suspected fraud by false representation.

A traveller walks through the Calgary Airport on Wednesday, December 30, 2020. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Shortly before Christmas, Warwickshire authorities in Britain said scammers were offering fake COVID-19 tests for the equivalent of $175 that came with a bogus certificate of negative results. The name of a genuine testing laboratory was used on the certificates.

A woman in Spain was arrested for selling false negative COVID-19 test certificates over the internet for the equivalent of $62. Her ads said many customers had already successfully used her certificates to travel abroad.

The woman was using the name of a legitimate laboratory in Madrid, which complained to Policía Nacional, a Spanish federal police force. She was arrested for crimes against public health, fraud and forgery and investigators were tracking down her customers, police said.

In the Netherlands, scammers were caught selling fake test certificates for between about $75 to $100 through WhatsApp and Snapchat. They issued fake certificates in the names of real doctors and real laboratories without conducting any COVID-19 test.

The largest known suspected forgery ring was uncovered at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport, Europe’s second busiest airport, in November. Direct flights from the airport arrive in Montreal and Toronto.

The French investigation began when a passenger checked in for a flight to Ethiopia and was found to be using a fake certificate declaring he didn’t have COVID-19.

Police said seven people were arrested — six men and one woman — for selling certificates for prices ranging from the equivalent of about $230 to $465. They were charged with forgery, use of forgery and complicity in fraud.

Europol issued the alert to raise awareness of the schemes and encourage member agencies to share information on other local criminal activities related to fake COVID testing documentation.

“Given the widespread technological means available, in the form of high-quality printers and different software, fraudsters are able to produce high-quality counterfeit, forged or fake documents,” Europol said.

The Canadian government requires all passengers, five years of age or older, to provide proof of a valid COVID-19 molecular test taken no more than 72-hours prior to departure.

Providing false information or false documents when entering Canada can bring criminal charges, CBSA warned. Foreign nationals who provide false information could also be denied entry and barred from returning to Canada, Stuart said.

“Entry prohibitions, coupled with mandatory isolation and quarantine, remain the most effective means of limiting the introduction of new cases of COVID-19 into Canada,” he said.

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