According to official information, there are currently 3,000 to 4,000 investigations into falsification of vaccination certificates in Germany. However, the number of unreported cases is significantly higher, explained Martin Braun, President of the Baden-Württemberg State Chamber of Pharmacies, on Wednesday in an online debate in the “Authority Mirror”.
He estimates that in Germany between 12 and 15 percent of the yellow vaccination cards and the digital Covid certificates based on them are fake. The prosecuted cases are “just the absolute tip of the iceberg,” emphasized Braun. He assumes that false vaccination certificates “in the high six-digit range” are in circulation in Germany. Specifically, there are probably hundreds of thousands of cases.
This is by no means a trivial offence: someone is sneaking into more social freedoms, thereby endangering fellow citizens and society. It is therefore important to combat this phenomenon in any case, demanded the head of the chamber: “The population has a right to the certificate being genuine if there is proof.” The risk of infection from an unvaccinated person is significantly higher than, in particular, from people who have been vaccinated three times. The actions of the scammers border on physical harm.
Analog vaccination cards can hardly be checked
Since only electronic proof has been used for events and restaurant visits, “the rush to pharmacies has been great,” says Braun. The issuance of the digital vaccination certificate and the check of the “yellow rag” require “detective skills”. The system suffers from the birth defect that the real authenticity of the analogue vaccination certificates “is practically not verifiable”. There are no watermarks. At the same time, blank papers are easy to acquire and forge.
When it comes to verifying authenticity, “a lot is about feeling,” the pharmacist revealed. The instructions for this are several pages long and refer to various features to filter out a fake. It is now possible to query the batch number, for example. However, it cannot be proven whether the vaccine mentioned was actually administered. For data protection reasons, there is no connection between the IT systems of doctors and pharmacists. Nevertheless, the latter are now “quite good” in the exams and “fish out many, many who present fake vaccination cards”. In some cases, the printing date of the paper is after the alleged immunization.
Often no consequences
This often has no legal consequences for those affected. In this country, the district court of Osnabrück initially found a criminal liability gap at the beginning of November. Anyone who presented a fake vaccination card in a pharmacy in order to get a digital certificate could not be prosecuted. As a result, the traffic light factions agreed to improve the Criminal Code (StGB). The justification for the law states that health certificates such as vaccination cards are usually documents. This means that the criminal offense of forgery of documents applies. There is a risk of up to five years in prison.
Anyone who fills blank vaccination cards with incorrect entries and prepares a forgery is also liable to prosecution. The change has been in effect since November 24th. However, pharmacists are subject to confidentiality. If someone presents a forgery, it was not clear in the country for so long “whether we could report the person,” Braun explained. The public prosecutor’s offices of several larger cities in Baden-Württemberg have now at least announced that pharmacists are exempt from the confidentiality requirements in such cases. Otherwise they run the risk that the counterfeiter will also report them. Potential sanctions then ranged up to dismissal proceedings.
In Bavaria, for example, the situation is more complicated, the federal government has not yet added anything, the head of the chamber reported. He appealed to the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Bundestag to clarify in paragraph 203a StGB that “a reporting pharmacist cannot be prosecuted”. Anything else “would be a step joke of history”. Once a digital certificate has been issued on the basis of a fake vaccination card, it is a “false positive”. Such a thing can no longer be retrieved and is recognized as valid by the “CovPass Check” app, for example.
In the footsteps of the counterfeiters
The police in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) registered 1,700 offenses from November 24 to the end of the year, according to Wolfgang Hermanns, head of the Strategic Crime Prevention Department at the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) there. He also assumes that there is a large number of unreported cases and emphasized: “We are dependent on ads.” But there is still “little professional perpetrators”. The LKA will continue to investigate in this direction.
IT security researchers had previously referred to a wide range of fake vaccination certificates, for example on the Darknet or in Telegram groups. Hermanns now said he supports a “secure digital IT process” for issuing the required QR codes. This should at least make it difficult for occasional counterfeiters to do their job. However, the proof of a fake vaccination card is “difficult for us too”, the motivation of the perpetrators is high.
Orientate to the credit card industry
It is now taking revenge that the European Covid certificate is based on an infrastructure “that is not digital,” complained Thorsten Urbanski, head of the TeleTrusT initiative “IT Security made in EU”. Anyone who vaccinates must also be able to create the QR code: “We have to stop using stickers.”
The association promptly recommended that politicians orientate themselves towards the credit card industry. It would make sense to store the certificate on a special chip card and conduct a “live check” of stakes. In practice, it is not possible for a person to be expelled to be in different places at the same time, explained Urbanski. Such a check can be fully anonymous in the background and run without much tracking. It would also make sense to harden the IT infrastructure, especially in medical practices. Too often devices with Windows NT and Windows 7 are still in use there for which regular support is no longer available. Politicians must also address omissions such as the lack of a vaccination register and a lack of safety standards.