A British travel agent has been accused of selling a “substantial” number of fake COVID-19 test certificates to its customers to enable them to travel abroad. Trading Standards officials suggested customers may not have even been aware that the negative test certificates which were designed to look like they came from legitimate clinics were actually fraudulent.
“It is difficult to overstate the damage that has been caused here: a legitimate business has faced reputational risk and travellers may have been unwittingly spreading a deadly virus,” commented Bolton Council’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Hilary Fairclough where the investigation is taking place.
“At a time when the community has pulled together to fight COVID-19 and keep everyone safe, it is shocking that a small minority have exploited the system for personal profit,” Fairclough continued.
Trading Standards officers carried out a raid at the unnamed business and found a “substantial number of fraudulent documents” that had been given to customers over the last year.
The forged certificates were for negative PCR tests which are considered the ‘gold standard’ of COVID-19 test. The certificates would have been issued as Britain became the epicentre of the Deltas variant outbreak. Daily COVID-19 case numbers in the UK remain well above the rest of Europe and many other countries around the world.
Items seized from the business are still being analysed as officers determine the scale of the alleged fraud and decide whether to bring charges against the travel agency.
The raid once again highlights the ease with which travellers can skip pandemic travel restrictions, many of which carry serious criminal consequences but are rarely enforced or easily forged.
In the case of test certificates, officials have to resort to scanning documents for spelling errors or other obvious mistakes to distinguish the fakes. Security features like QR codes are rarely added or even more rarely cross checked.
Digital verification systems have been designed and implemented by the travel industry but aren’t compulsory and not even available on all routes.
Earlier this year, a British music teacher was found guilty of attempting to leave the UK using a fake PCR test certificate from Heathrow Airport. The deception was only discovered by eagle-eyed staff working of Egypt Air who realised the serial number on the certificate was missing a single character.
The European Union has successfully rolled out a bloc-wide digital COVID-19 certification pass that digitally confirms test status, as well as vaccination status. The digital COVID pass has been adopted by other non-EU countries and the airline industry has called for the pass to become the defacto global standard in order to make travel easier, quicker and less prone to criminal exploitation.
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.