A man in his 30’s has been arrested at London Luton Airport, located around 34 miles north of the British capital, on suspicion of selling fake COVID-19 test certificates to passengers who require evidence of a recent test to board certain flights. The man, who has not been named by police, has been released under investigation while enquiries continue according to a statement from Bedfordshire Police.
There is mounting concern about fraudsters making money out of the pandemic by selling fake ‘fit to fly’ certificates although little action has been taken to stamp out the activity since criminals saw an opportunity in the market last August.
In October 2020 there were widespread reports of criminal gangs selling fake test results for around $65 – about half the price of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that an increasing number of countries demand passengers to have had between 72 and 48 hours before departure.
The fraudsters have been helped by the fact that there is no common international standard of what a ‘fit to fly’ certificate should look like and no way of border officials actually verifying that a certificate is genuine.
Some passengers have openly admitted to photoshopping certificates and simply changing the date and personal details – a tactic that is becoming more and more popular as many travelers who don’t want the hassle or expense of taking a test realise that their chance of getting caught is so slim.
“Unfortunately, fraudsters have seen the ongoing pandemic as an opportunity to prey on people, and if you are approached by someone offering to sell certificates who is not an authorised provider, please report it immediately,” commented Detective Sergeant Tom Hamm, of Bedfordshire Police’s Crime Investigation Team following the arrest of the man on Wednesday.
“If you are travelling abroad to a country that requires proof you are fit to fly, you can only obtain this from an approved test provider,” Detective Sergeant Hamm continued. PCR tests range in price from as little as £80 to £130 per person. Rapid antigen tests are around 30 to 40 per cent cheaper.
The airline industry is currently working on a solution to combat the fraudsters but progress has been slow. The International Air Transport Association is testing a secure app that shares test results between approved labs and passengers, as well as airlines and government officials if necessary.
So far, only Etihad Airways, Emirates and Singapore Airlines have signed up to the ‘Travel Pass’ system, although there is talk of British Airways and Iberia putting the app through its paces within weeks.
President Biden also signed an executive order on Thursday that suggests his administration is keen to agree on common testing standards for international travel with other countries. Such standards would also likely include test verification.
In the meantime, however, it’s still open season for many criminals.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.