Italy cracks on fake EU digital Covid-19 certificates

Photo: European Commission

Italian police announced it had broken up a large number of online schemes set to offer for sale fake EU digital Covid-19 status certificates or falsely administered coronavirus vaccines. The investigation was supervised by the cybercrime prosecutor’s office in Milan and showed that thousands of people were ready to pay for false certificates, Reuters reported. The EU on Thursday launched a digital Covid-19 certificate designed to help citizens travel across Europe bloc and restart the summer tourism.

The certificate features a "QR" code, which proves that a traveller had been fully vaccinated or had recently recovered from a Covid-19 infection or tested negative in PCR probe. The police confirmed it had cracked 10 channels on the encrypted messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts on marketplaces in the so-called Dark Web, through which it was possible to contact sellers, who sought payments in cryptocurrency.

Prices ranged from 110 to 130 euros for an "all inclusive" package of fake pass and purported vial of vaccine. Some buyers came from outside the EU. "About 250,000 users had registered, and a hundred tried to contact the sellers," said Gian Luca Berruti, head of the Milan tax police's cyber-fraud unit.

It is still unclear whether any actual vaccine jabs were found, but police said they had found several counterfeit Covid-19 certificates. These contained false identification data, the specially generated QR code and the batch number of a first and second dose of vaccine administration. Berruti said police had identified a number of suspects, but declined to disclose further details.

"We want to make clear that anyone found with these fake certificates, including buyers, risks being prosecuted for offences punishable by up to six years in prison, such as fraud and using false documents," he said. The scheme was uncovered using two artificial intelligence tools that allow the police to monitor the web in real time and then interact as potential customers.” Berruti said.

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