It seems unthinkable. After the hardship and misery the world has faced over the past year or so — even after the positive responses shown by many in fighting the pandemic — there are still people who would take advantage of the situation and use it for their own nefarious purposes.
Unthinkable, yes, but certainly not impossible. Fake COVID tests and test results are very real and are contributing to the challenge of navigating a way out of this crisis. This is a problem that demands immediate attention, as people — and even whole communities — are being put at risk.
Possibility of contamination
If individuals and groups are producing and distributing fake COVID testing kits, these testing kits are unlikely to meet the high standards of hygiene and safety. This could provide a serious and direct health risk to users.
Ineffective testing methods
The problem with a pandemic is that even the indirect health risks of fake equipment are seriously grave. If individuals are getting tested using substandard equipment and believe themselves to be infection-free, this puts the wider community at risk.
Increased spread of the virus
Fraudulent COVID test results allow people who may be infected to gain access to areas they would otherwise be prohibited from, increasing the spread of the virus.
Reduced trust in testing
COVID-19 test results are designed, at least in part, to provide peace of mind and a reliable means of verification for concerned individuals or organisations. If there are fake test results that are broadly available, public trust in testing will be greatly reduced, and it will be difficult for our society to move beyond this dark period.
Unfortunately, this is already proving to be a widespread issue. As the world looks hopefully towards a recovery phase from the pandemic, news outlets are breaking stories from across the globe that warn about the prevalence of fake COVID-19 test results. In the United Kingdom, police in Greater Manchester have warned about fake COVID-19 test certificates being sold at airports and online. Fraudsters have been arrested in the United Kingdom, Brazil and France, and are using sophisticated equipment to produce these counterfeit certificates.
Across the Atlantic, the Mexican Council of Medical Diagnosis Companies (Comed) has identified the sale of fake test results to travellers in hotels and airports. Many of these documents are then used to gain access to the United States, Canada, and other global destinations where international travel is highly regulated.
“Fake test [results] are easily detected and those responsible for issuing them must be sanctioned immediately. People traveling internationally can and must do legal tests performed by authorised and serious laboratories that provide service to airports and hotels,” Comed said in a statement. “This illegal trafficking [of fake results] only promotes greater spread of the virus at the time of a serious health emergency and the appearance of new variants of SARS-CoV-2.”
In Southeast Asia, police have reported incidents of fake swab tests, as well as fake test results. In January 2021, Malaysian police arrested six Pakistani nationals following the sale of fake test results. It is believed that the sale of these results — orchestrated by a crime syndicate in Pakistan — had been taking place since August 2020.
These are just three examples, but they illustrate the truly global nature of this issue.
Above, we mentioned how criminals are using sophisticated equipment to manufacture fraudulent documents and even test kits. This can make it very difficult for the average person to spot the difference between a fake and the real thing. Even experts may find it challenging to tell the difference in some cases.
People are growing increasingly tired of lockdowns and travel restrictions. Although most people still recognise the need for certain measures, people are feeling the strain in a social, financial, and mental health sense. Being able to purchase a fake set of results relatively cheaply (the tests sold in Malaysia cost only $98) is too much temptation for some people who are desperately seeking normality.
The COVID-19 pandemic is well into its second year now, and people are becoming familiar with what is expected of them. While some people are growing desperate, others are settling into this interim "new normal" and are perhaps growing complacent regarding the dangers. Without proper measures in place to stop fake COVID results in their tracks, people who do not recognise the need to play by these rules will find it easy to bend and even break them.
While the efforts of news outlets and social media platforms have had some effect in preventing the flow of misinformation, there is still an element of confusion. The average person does not know how to recognise a fake piece of testing equipment or fake test results. We've already noted that many fakes are difficult to tell apart from the genuine article, but this is compounded by a widespread lack of education on the subject.
As discussed above, this is a global problem that requires a global response. While law enforcement bodies from different jurisdictions do work together, there is still a lack of widespread global cooperation, making the proper response difficult to achieve.
We live in a digital age, which means a digital solution is required to counteract the challenges we face. Digital platforms like engage™ can certainly assist in this regard and help us — as a global society — to overcome many of the obstacles posed by fake COVID tests. Here's how:
The best way to discover more about how engage™ can help during the COVID-19 recovery phase is to put the platform through its paces for yourself. Get in touch with the team and request a free demo of engage™ today.