- Many tourism-reliant countries have implemented strict requirements for visitors during the pandemic.
- However, some people are attempting to bypass these requirements by purchasing counterfeit coronavirus test results.
- New apps such as CommonPass and CLEAR Health Pass will help crack down on this fraudulent activity.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that "travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19."
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Around the world, some people are attempting to bypass travel requirements by purchasing counterfeit coronavirus test results on the black market.
Despite coronavirus cases being on the rise globally, many tourist destinations can't afford to close their borders to foreigners. Instead, they've implemented strict requirements on who can and cannot enter, usually demanding proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within a certain pre-arrival timeframe.
But not everyone seems to be on board with this simple stipulation, with reports of counterfeit test results cropping up in different countries. Whether people are unable to obtain a test in time or simply unwilling to take it is unclear.
As air travel slowly bounces back — the number of daily travelers passing through TSA checkpoints was down to fewer than 100,000 early on during the pandemic, compared to an average of over two million pre-pandemic, and has recently increased to around 800,000 a day — it is especially important to be able to trust visitors and fellow travelers.
But the travel industry is beginning to crack down on this fraudulent activity with digital uploading requirements and apps such as CommonPass.
Counterfeit test results have recently cropped up around the world, from Brazil to Bangladesh
In France, seven people were arrested at the Paris airport on November 7 for reportedly selling fraudulent test results for between $180 and $360 (€150 to 300), according to the AP. They were charged with forgery, use of forgery, and complicity in fraud, the AP reports, and face five years of jail time and a hefty fine.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, an archipelago off the coast, originally made the unusual decision in September to re-open only to visitors who could prove that they have already had COVID-19. However, according to the AP, as of October 10 it requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within a day of departure.
In late October, four Brazilian tourists traveling by private jet were arrested in Fernando de Noronha on charges of falsifying documents, using falsified documents, and criminal association, according to the AP. They had presented documents taken three days before departure, refused to take a new test, and then quickly procured new documents with a different date, arousing suspicion, the AP reports. When officials called the lab it turned out that they had simply changed the date on the same tests.
In the UK, the Lancashire Telegraph reports having spoken to a man who claimed to have falsified a friend's documents to successfully travel to Pakistan after it implemented a testing requirement on October 5.
"It is quite simple," the anonymous man told the Lancashire Telegraph. "Everyone knows someone who has had a COVID test."
He said he simply downloaded the friend's test results, changed the name, birthdate, and date, and printed the document.
The newspaper also reports instances of fake documents being sold in the UK for $197 (£150) and mentions a travel agent who allegedly offered a client fake results for around $66 (£50).
In Bangladesh, the owner of a hospital was arrested on July 15 for selling thousands of fake test results to migrant workers for $59 a pop, the New York Times reports.
Going forward it should become a lot harder to travel with fake documents
Governments and airlines around the world are looking for ways to avoid renewed border closings, assuage travelers' fear, and minimize the need for quarantines to get people traveling again.
Having uniform guidelines and standardized test results could be the first step.
Paper test results, for example, can not only come in different formats and languages, but they can also be easily manipulated as the story of the man traveling to Pakistan from the UK demonstrates.
This puts the onus of verifying tests on TSA agents, border officials, and government employees who may not speak the language the test results are in. Having a uniform test result would ensure proper testing and make travel a lot safer.
The Washington Post cites Hawaii as an example of a destination making it more difficult for travelers to enter with fake results. To get into the state, visitors must digitally upload results from an approved testing site.
Hawaii's Visitors and Convention Bureau and Department of Transportation did not yet respond to Insider's request for more information.
A new app called CommonPass, created by non-profit The Commons Project and backed by the World Economic Forum, is also working to make travel safer and minimize this sort of fraud.
The app is designed to establish a common international standard for health data — from lab results to vaccination records — and can provide airlines, border controls, and governments with test results and passenger health information via a personalized QR code.
"What CommonPass does is set up a framework for people to have their COVID tests and vaccination results in a secure place in order for them to pass across a border without sharing their personal health information," Thomas Crampton, CommonPass' chief marketing and communications officer told Insider.
"Really what we're building is a trust framework to allow people to share information, allow governments to trust one another, and allow travelers to trust each other about their COVID status," he said.
The app allows data from recognized labs only and shows users what the latest entry requirements at their destination are. Avoiding paper documents also minimizes the risk of fraud.
"It's not just the elimination of paper," Crampton said. "It's a fully identifiable test result from a known certified lab, the identifying information — the QR code — being your name and your ID number, probably your passport or driver's license."
Many tout the app as potentially being able to help avoid border closings, avoid quarantines, and reduce travel restrictions.
"The travel industry views what we're doing as a lifeline to them," Crampton said. But he said that CommonPass's ultimate goal is to make travel safer and to look out for people's interests.
"All that we do is enable the safe, secure, verifiable sharing of COVID status, either vaccine or tests," he said. "The fraudulent documents are dangerous, and those who are falsifying them are incredibly selfish. We need to undertake measures to combat this because it has a risk of spreading the outbreak even further."
So far, United and Cathay Pacific have trialed the app on specific flights.
CLEAR, best known as a way to expedite getting through airport security, much like TSA PreCheck, has long used biometrics — fingerprints or iris scans, for example — instead of paper documents. Amid the pandemic, it has launched Health Pass by CLEAR, which links biometric information to certified documents, such as health questionnaires, vaccination records, temperature checks, and COVID tests, according to CNBC.
Furthermore, CLEAR is contactless, potentially minimizing the spread of COVID-19 by reducing touch points in public spaces: CLEAR is not just focused on airports but sees Health Pass as something that can be used anywhere, from hotels to offices to stadiums and restaurants, per CNBC.
The idea is to eventually also have CLEAR kiosks in public spaces that can take people's temperature and upload results immediately using facial recognition.
Representatives for CLEAR did not yet respond to Insider's request for more information.
Despite coronavirus numbers rising around the world, travel is slowly bouncing back
Earlier this year, 90% fewer passengers were taking to the skies compared to the same time last year, though the number of daily travelers passing through TSA checkpoints is steadily increasing.
The recent news of a potential vaccine also caused vacation searches to spike. The Guardian reports that Skyscanner, a flight and accommodation search engine, saw a 48% surge in searches for spring and summer travel.
Furthermore, between pandemic fatigue leading people to engage in riskier behavior, more and more countries reopening to foreigners, travel destinations around the world launching hard-to-resist incentives to lure travelers, and many airlines no longer blocking middle seats to ensure social distancing, it is becoming all the more crucial for travelers to be able to trust that those they are seated next to have taken appropriate tests.
However, it is important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that "travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19."
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