A prolific Irish drug dealer is selling fake Covid-19 vaccine certificates on the dark web for as much as €350 each.
It is believed the digital certificates are likely functional and are being sold to people who want to travel abroad on holidays but do not want to be vaccinated.
The seller is one of a number of people advertising what are purporting to be Irish vaccine certificates on dark web marketplaces. Also available on other sites are fake negative PCR tests and fake documents stating the holder has recently recovered from Covid-19.
While many such items have been available for months, prices increased after the Government announced in October that vaccine passports will be required for the immediate future.
Gardaí said they are consulting with health officials on how to respond. The Department of Health said it is working with other EU countries to put in a system to revoke or invalidate fraudulent certificates at short notice.
A Garda spokesman said use of a fraudulent certificate is an offence under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Offenders may also be guilty of a separate, recently introduced, offence of using a fake Covid cert, which carries a maximum €2,000 fine.
According to gardaí and health officials, there have been no reported instances of anyone being caught using a fake certificate in Ireland to date. "An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to all citizens to comply with public health guidelines and regulations in order to continue to save lives," the Garda said.
“Member states and the [European] Commission are working at national and European level on improving invalidation and revocation systems, to be able to react to any such cases quickly,” a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
“The Member states and the commission condemn this malicious act in the strongest possible terms, which comes at a time when health services in all member states are under pressure fighting the pandemic.”
The seller advertising fake Irish certificates for €350 operates on a well known dark web marketplace for illicit items, which can only be accessed using specialist software.
The price includes a digital certificate containing a custom QR code, which will display the buyer’s name when scanned.
It also includes a realistic-looking, printed HSE vaccination card. “Full Irish vaccine passport, not recorded on database,” customers are told, meaning the code could not easily be cancelled by health authorities.
Other items on the marketplace include cocaine, LSD and ketamine.
Maciej Makowski, a former member of the Garda National Cybercrime Bureau who monitors dark web activity, said it is likely the certificate is functional, as the seller is highly rated on the site and would not want to endanger his reputation by defrauding customers.
According to the dealer’s profile, they have a 95 per cent positive feedback rate across hundreds of sales.
Mr Makowski said the steep price means the main customers for the certificates are probably those seeking to travel abroad, rather than those who want to go to restaurants or bars.
“Realistically, if you really want to go to a night club, you can ask a friend to give you a cert. Most places don’t check that thoroughly against your ID.
“The real utility of these would be to be able to get on a plane and go abroad. It will match up with your name, meaning no one could tell it’s fake.”
He said there are several ways criminals could have gotten hold of the code required to manufacture the documents, including inadvertent online leaks. Several EU countries have so far reported the leaking of their vaccine certificate source codes.