Earlier this month, cyber security researchers reported the widespread availability of fake coronavirus vaccine certificates on the dark web. The price tag attached to these documents hovers around the $200 mark.

Around the world, vaccination rates range wildly, from 0% of the population to 52%. “The counterfeit products are being marketed to people who need to board planes, cross borders, start a new job or other activities that may require someone to give proof of vaccination.”

Experts predicted the proliferation of illegal markets around vaccine cards and digital passports. “Not everyone has access to the vaccine; roll-outs are slow in many countries, and people are tired of lock-downs and curfews,” explains expert Michela Menting.

“We do negative Covid tests, for travellers abroad, for getting a job etc. Buy two negative tests and get the third for free!” says one dark web advertisement.

What to know about counterfeit coronavirus documentation

“It’s imperative for people to understand that attempting to obtain a vaccine, a vaccination card or negative Covid-19 test result by unofficial means is extremely risky, as hackers are more interested in your money, information and identity for exploitation,” says Oded Vanunu, Head of Product Vulnerabilities Research at Check Point.

Individuals cannot confirm the authenticity of sellers on the dark web, and some may not deliver on their promised goods. They may simply depart with the dollars. The fraudsters continue to remain anonymous on account of untraceable payment methods.

How can nations prevent document fraud?

QR code systems can help. They can make forgeries easier to identify. Alternatively, barcodes on vaccine certificates could also limit the use of forged vaccination cards.

Security experts advocate that digital records contain encrypted keys or other digital signatures that can help validate the authenticity of documents. Nations are expected to configure systems so that they can share the digitally signed certificates with ease. Certain countries, such as Israel and Greece, have already agreed to accept one another’s vaccination certificates.

The green digital certificate

In the EU, authorities envision a digital (and paper) passport that would permit any vaccinated or COVID-19 negative citizen to travel within the borders of the EU. “Our key objectives are to offer an easy to use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection,” states the European Commission’s website. This form of documentation will be available without charge and in all official languages of the issuing Member States.

For more on counterfeit vaccine cards, visit the BBC.