Smuggling counterfeit covid certificates for 150 euros

The obligation to show covid passport to enter clubs paves way for rogue traders

3 min
Certificat covid to enter the discotheques

BarcelonaA member of a Telegram group with more than 2,400 people, in which calls for street drinking parties have been made in recent weeks, sends the following message: "We make covid certificates with two vaccines. Write me for more information". Another user replies that it is easier to get vaccinated, but he questions if he knows what they put in the doses and assures him that they carry "a lot of s*it". In a conversation with another, he dares to say that vaccines are free because they kill. "Wash your eyes, my friend", he adds. The denialist discourse of the covid passport forger apparently doesn't quite capture the attention of the group's members, but if we send him a private message, he explains that he can make a certificate for 550 euros.

Covid passport smuggling has gained notoriety since this document has become compulsory to enter Catalan nightclubs -until now, in Catalonia, it was only required for international travel-. A week ago, before the reopening of nightlife, the Mossos d'Esquadra alerted that groups had been detected on Telegram "which offer the covid vaccine certificate or a negative PCR result illegally". The police redirect to a warning from the Office of Internet Security (OSI), which shows another group on the same app that claims it can also forge documents. There it asks to contact a Telegram user. When we speak to him, he thanks you for wanting to "be part of the resistance team" and "say no to the poisonous vaccine". As for the passport, he replies that it costs 150 euros.

Despite the price differences, the two covid certificate offers agree on one thing: payment can only be made with cryptocurrency. The users give detailed instructions in case you don't know how it works and state that, once the amount has been paid, you will receive the passport within a maximum of 48 hours. Prior to that, certain personal information is requested, such as name and surname, date of birth, ID or Social Security number and an email. But when asked what guarantees they give that the passport will arrive and that it will be enough to enter clubs, the two users use the same strategy: they send an example of a certificate. One is Aragonese and the other French.

When we check the two QR codes with the tool, which is the website used by Catalan nightclubs to check the authenticity of the passports, the two documents get green validations: therefore, theoretically they are correct. But the name that appears is not the one on the ID of the user who ordered it, which the two Telegram forgers claim will only happen when you pay them the €150 or €550. The key to this is whether the clubs will ask all customers for their IDs, because if they do not, you can access the venue with someone else's covid certificate.

"Residual", for now

On the first night of the reopening of the premises, the doormen asked for passports and identity cards, but this caused queues. The employers' organisation Fecasarm admitted that there were "some technical problems" with the verification of the QR codes because "there were many people who did not have the certificate and the website did not read it for others". It is not known whether those who got red validations were because they had tried to enter with a forged covid certificate. When consulted by ARA, the Mossos explained that before the return of nightclubs they had detected few cases of fraudulent passports, which is why for the moment they describe it as a "residual" phenomenon.

Despite this, the Office of Internet Security warns of the danger of having provided personal data to Telegram users offering covid certificates or making any payment to them. The OSI assures that people who have tried it "have become victims of fraud", as "there is no guarantee" that they will actually receive the document. In fact, the Mossos also warned this week of the difficulty in clarifying the traceability of operations with bitcoins, which is the only payment system accepted by passport forgers.

Little impact on vaccinations

Fecasarm has exposed that young people are interested in getting vaccinated to obtain the covid certificate and ask if they can access the premises the same day they have received the dose - which is not the case, since they have to wait two weeks. However, so far there has been no noticeable impact on the vaccinations of the under-30 age group. According to Health data, at the end of September 73% of young people between 16 and 19 had the full guideline, and in the range of 20 to 29 it did not reach 63%. Now, 15 days later, more than 75% of 16-19 year olds have been vaccinated, and among 20-29 year olds it is less than 65%. Therefore, although the percentages have increased by two points, the reopening of nightclubs has not, for the moment, been an incentive for young people to get vaccinated.