With COVID-19 tests becoming a common entry requirement for countries and states, a black market has popped up to serve travelers who need test results taken within a few days of departure.
Last week, French police arrested seven people for selling falsified negative test results at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport, which is Europe’s largest. Prosecutors said the suspects were charging between $180-360 for fake certificates.
The arrests were the fruits of an investigation that began with fake documentation from a passenger bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
If convicted, the suspects face up to five years in prison and nearly a half million dollars in fines.
The practice of falsifying COVID test results has also popped up in South America. Last month, police arrested four Brazilian tourists for presenting altered testing documents when they arrived via private plane in Fernando de Noronha, an island chain off that country’s northern coast that requires negative COVID-19 test results no older than 24 hours.
French and Brazilian police have arrested people for selling fake COVID-19 test results or falsifying the dates of real tests.
When officials rejected their three-day-old test results, the suspects declined to be retested and instead handed over a different set of test results with a different date, which raised red flags. A call to the lab confirmed they had altered the dates on their tests in order to meet the 24-hour requirements. And instead of going to Fernando de Noronha’s top-rated Sancho Bay beach, they went to jail.
A British man came right out and told The Lancashire Telegraph that he swapped his own name and birthdate in on a friend’s electronic test result and printed it out when he needed negative results within 96 hours in order to travel to Pakistan. It worked, too.
Why would someone fake a result rather than just making an appointment at their local testing site?
The man told the newspaper that at the time he needed to travel, tests were reserved for essential workers or people with demonstrated symptoms.
Thanks to more readily available testing, COVID-19 test forgery does not appear to be widespread in the U.S. However, early on in the pandemic, the FBI and Federal Trade Commission warned of fake pop-up testing sites being used to steal unsuspecting customers’ social security numbers and credit card information.
Scams like these may have less of a chance of succeeding in destinations that require all test results to be delivered electronically instead of accepting printed forms. For instance, Hawaii, which implemented its testing program on Oct. 15, requires visitors to pre-register online and upload negative test results from a designated lab taken within 72 hours of travel. The state also only accepts one form of testing, nucleic acid amplification. At the same time, United and Hawaiian Airlines rolled out at-home, drive-thru and airport-based rapid testing programs that comply with state requirements.
Tourists who arrive without a test result or who do not get tested on arrival must quarantine for 14 days. Hawaii has been aggressively enforcing the policy, arresting and fining violators.
Of the 66,644 people who arrived in the program’s first week, 41,783 tested negative and were allowed to skip quarantine. Another 7,500 were ordered into quarantine.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 tests: People arrested for selling fake results to travelers