After peddling fake tests and vaccines for the coronavirus, criminals are now selling counterfeit vaccination certificates in Mexico City, allowing their customers to lie about their vaccine status and travel abroad.
Vendors in Mexico City’s Plaza de Santo Domingo neighborhood are charging 500 to 600 pesos ($24 to $30) for the fabricated documents, El Universal reported. The discovery was made less than a week after the Mexican government announced the certificates program on July 6.
The fabricated documents appear to have two purposes for travel. First, unvaccinated people, or those with their first dose, can use the fake certificates to gain entry to countries that require two doses.
Second, they can change the vaccine listed on their certificate for countries with specific requirements. For example, the European Union only accepts travelers having received Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson vaccines, the four approved by the European Medicine Agency.
Yet, in Mexico, many people have received the China-made CanSino or Sinovac vaccines.
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Unfounded fears of the vaccine may also be playing a part. An unnamed vendor selling falsified certificates told El Universal that some people buy a fake certificate to avoid being vaccinated "because they said they were going to be killed."
The fake documents work by including a QR code that redirects to a fake website designed to look similar to the government COVID-19 vaccination website. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, cybersecurity expert Carlos Ramírez said that it is challenging but possible for criminals to “load each QR with the data requested by customers.”
The desire for fake vaccination certificates goes beyond Mexico’s borders, with Paraguay and Peru already reporting dozens of falsified certificates.
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At every stage of the pandemic, petty criminals have taken advantage of vulnerable government responses within days. False vaccination certificates are just the latest example.
Counterfeit negative tests were first made available. In January 2021, El País discovered a scheme that sold negative tests at Cancún International Airport, especially for expatriates and foreign tourists returning home.
Both proven and unproven cures have also quickly appeared on the black market. A Colombian doctor was arrested in Venezuela last September for illegally selling the first drug shown to be effective against COVID-19, remdesivir. In Brazil, authorities seized 120 boxes of smuggled hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug touted by President Jair Bolsonaro as a potential treatment for the coronavirus that was shown to be ineffective.
Finally, Mexico has been a hotspot of phony vaccines. In January 2021, Mexico’s National Council of Private Security (Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Privada – CNSP) reported that laboratories making fake vaccines had been found in the states of Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, and Mexico City. While in Venezuela in June, nearly 2,000 people were scammed into purchasing vials of boiling water and additives advertised as the Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccines for $100 to $450.