Eliminating the black market for fake COVID vaccine certificates via automated solutions
By Sarah Amundsson, Customer Success Manager at Shufti Pro.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global fraud landscape has substantially worsened. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), approximately 205,000 COVID-19 related fraud reports were filed in 2020, amounting to losses worth $145 million. What makes the situation worse is that from faking COVID-19 vaccinations and PCR tests, criminals have now shifted towards manipulating legitimate COVID vaccine certificates. This issue is posing a serious threat to the healthcare and travel industry, both of which require COVID certificate verification to facilitate safe reopening.
Digital COVID certificate verification is one particular viable solution that can be used for effectively combating this type of document fraud. But before we dive deeper into this, let’s take a brief overview of some recent events that expose the intensity of the ‘fake COVID vaccination certificate’ situation.
What are digital COVID vaccine certificates?
The World Health Organization (WHO) characterizes COVID vaccine certificates as the digital document that represents the vaccination status of an individual. In other words, it holds all necessary COVID-19-related health data of the holder, which is digitally stored in the form of an electronic certificate. Similar to a paper-based certificate, the digital COVID vaccination certificate serves as a legitimate vaccination card, verified by an approved laboratory.
How real is the issue?
According to a recent report by Check Point Research, fake vaccination certificates have become a full-blown industry across 29 countries. The research intimates that fake vaccination certificates are being purchased for as much as $75 across countries including India, Australia, the UAE, Thailand, Austria, Brazil, Singapore, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, and Malta among others. Additionally, fraudulent COVID vaccination certificates have also become readily available on the dark web, raising issues of financial fraud and identity theft.
Unreliable COVID certificate apps
Due to the growing need for remote processes amidst the pandemic, numerous economies have launched country-wide plans and digital applications to facilitate healthcare from the comforts of the home. One such example is that of the Express Plus Medicare Mobile App, launched by the government of Australia. The app provides citizens with a digital vaccine certificate that includes their name, age, and the name of the vaccine received.
While the app proved to be effective initially, a security flaw was recently identified by a software engineer who shared a video of himself generating a fraudulent vaccination certificate. The flaw has enabled criminals to sell fake COVID certificates for as much as $270, allowing unvaccinated individuals to bypass security checks.
Fake COVID vaccine certificate distributors
According to other findings of the Check Point study, the Telegram app was found guilty of facilitating the distribution of counterfeit EU Digital COVID Certificates, as well as COVID vaccination cards from the UK National Health Service (NHS) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID vaccine certificates distributed through the Telegram app proved to be more accessible than the dark web, expanding the number of sellers from 1,000 sellers in August 2021 to approximately 10,000 by September 2021.
Automated verification: A need of the hour
Owing to the growing number of fake vaccine cards, automated verification seems to be a more viable alternative to manual verification methods. This is because criminals use sophisticated schemes for exploiting COVID certificates, making the manipulation unnoticeable to the naked human eye. Apart from being prone to human errors, manual verification techniques are more time-consuming, which may prove to be a disincentive towards the adoption of COVID certificates altogether. Regarding the flourishing market for fake vaccination certificates, the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol stated:
“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. 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.”
To enhance public trust in COVID-19 passports and identify document scams within seconds, authorities need to adopt automated solutions for streamlining the COVID certificate verification process.
The digital COVID certificate verification solution
Given that all public indoor spaces have been strictly advised to verify COVID certificates of customers prior to providing services, AI-powered COVID certificate verification solutions have become inevitable. These solutions have the capability of detecting fake COVID certificates within seconds through instant document verification checks that are performed via the COVID vaccine certificate.
The benefits? Not only is the identity of an individual verified, but so is their COVID vaccination status. Essentially, the solution offers companies the ability to deter identity and COVID-19-related fraud in a single go. Due to the convenience offered via automation, COVID certificate verification solutions can be utilized by airports, shopping malls, arenas, working spaces, amusement parks, restaurants, or any other public place that needs to remain a COVID-free zone.
Because of the rampant sale of counterfeit COVID vaccine certificates, robust authentication measures provided by automated solutions may be critical to the success of global vaccine verification schemes. Without the accurate verification of COVID vaccine certificates, unvaccinated groups could expedite the spread of the virus, and criminals on the other hand can potentially abuse sensitive health data available over the dark web. Thus, a digital COVID verification solution proves to be the best course of action towards attaining normalcy, leading to the rebound of travel and tourism.
About the author
Sarah Amundsson is the Customer Success Manager at Shufti Pro. As an expert in digital identity verification, Sarah helps businesses deploy solutions globally to solve their problems for Know Your Customer (KYC), Know Your Business (KYB), Anti-Money Laundering (AML) both for individuals and businesses, and fraud detection.
DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.