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German police arrest 12 in fake vaccine passports raids

Alex Berry
November 17, 2021

German officers have detained 12 individuals suspected of involvement in the manufacture and sale of falsified COVID-19 vaccine passports. The counterfeits are believed to have been sold for up to €400 each.

An image of a digital vaccine passport on a mobile phone
Police suspect hundreds of people have bought fake COVID-19 vaccine passportsImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

German police on Wednesday arrested 12 individuals suspected of being involved in the production and sale of falsified COVID-19 vaccine certificates.

Criminal investigators in the state of Hesse said in a press statement that more than 200 officers had taken part in raids on a total of 23 locations throughout the central German state, as well as two cities in the neighboring state of Baden-Württemberg.

Vaccine passports — either shown as a QR code or in an official vaccine paper booklet — are required as evidence of vaccination. Most bars, restaurants, and entertainment facilities require proof of vaccination or recovery from an infection. Some also allow proof of a recent negative test.

Germany has one of the highest rates of vaccine deniers who refuse to be vaccinated against the virus.

What did the police find?

Police investigations led them to two main suspects. A 36-year-old who had allegedly falsified vaccine documents and a 42-year-old who allegedly sold them.

The two men are accused of dealing with both falsified QR codes and paper documents. Police also detained ten other individuals during their raids.

Police estimated the number of counterfeits to be at least 300, with a similar number of customers. Prices for the faked documents ranged from €100 to €400 ($113 to $452). They also found mobile phones and data storage devices.

Officers seized falsified and blank vaccine passports and tens of thousands of euros in cash.

Investigators were able to track down 20 of the people suspected of having purchased the counterfeit vaccine passports.

Encryptions not forgery-proof

Digital vaccine passports, and vaccine passports in general, have been a topic of heated debate across Europe.

The news of falsified documents made headlines in October after fake certificates belonging to Adolf Hitler, Spongebob and Mickey Mouse were discovered. It was assumed that these had been made to show off what the counterfeiters were capable of.

The hacker group Chaos Computer Club (CCC) told lawmakers back when the passports were being discussed that forgery-proof encryptions would not be able to prevent single documents from being falsified.

Matthias Marx from the CCC told DW that the demand for fake passports would likely increase: "The stricter the rules for the unvaccinated, the greater the incentive to get a counterfeit. And then someone will offer it."

Denmark's COVID-19 passport success

Edited by: Farah Bahgat