Should Meeting Planners Worry About Counterfeit Vaccination Passports?

Vaccination document security is poised to be a serious concern facing the travel industry.

"COVID-19 Vaccine Set to Become the World's Most Powerful Passport in 2021." This recent headline captures the potential importance of vaccination documents now and in the year ahead.

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Will Covid passports soon be required for meetings? That's a question that travel-industry innovator Terrell Jones, founder of Travelocity and Kayak, will tackle in this upcoming Northstar Meetings Group webcast, taking place on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, at 2 p.m. EDT. Jones will discuss what's next for travel and answer audience questions. Register now!

Vaccination passports and certificates are widely viewed by governments and airlines, as well as travel, meetings and leisure associations, as the catalyst to restart their industries and kick-start economies. The implementation has already begun: Singapore Airlines is now testing the IATA Travel Pass on its Singapore–London route.

But an immediate consequence of this development will be a major new issue which will seriously undermine their role unless it is addressed: counterfeiting. If vaccination passports are to be the key to accessing so many aspects of life when they reopen, then there is a strong motivation for millions of people to acquire a fake passport before they've had their jabs, either by choice or lack of opportunity. 

A clear indication of this came in The Sun newspaper in the U.K., which reported in early December — as soon as vaccination began in the country — that fake Covid vaccination cards were being sold for £5 on TikTok. Meanwhile, thousands of people are trying to obtain forgeries in Israel for their "Green Pass," which is already being used to access gyms and venues. A rapidly growing number of templates for fake documents are being offered on the dark web.

What Counterfeit Vaccine Passports Mean for Planners

Adam Schrader, director of operations, Riskline
Adam Schrader, director of operations, Riskline

In general, meeting planners should avoid taking on the burden of verifying documentation themselves. Instead, they should take advantage of tools or systems developed by those who have expertise in these areas, such as public health departments or the companies developing these health passes. These organizations have established relationships with testing and vaccination sites, giving their documentation and passes a high level of trust.

Planners can consider using one of the digital pass apps under development, which would allow them to set their own rules for vaccination and testing for their event. This could also speed up registration and entry at the event, while minimizing the risk of someone using fake documentation. They must also know and abide by local rules on gatherings, which continue to shift. 

Why Would Travelers Counterfeit Vaccine Passports?

There are many different driving forces for different audiences around the world to acquire a counterfeit document. In the West, where many older people have already been vaccinated, millions of younger people will become frustrated by waiting to travel this summer. The possible requirement to have been vaccinated to take up some jobs or to attend concerts or shows will also push more of them to seek out suppliers.

In countries where, due to vaccine inequality, the rollout of vaccines may take as long as several years, very few people will be eligible for legal vaccination documentation.  

Meeting planners should take advantage of tools or systems developed by those who have expertise in these areas, such as public health departments or developers of these health passes.

In addition, every nation has a minority of vaccine skeptics who choose not to be vaccinated because they are fearful or concerned about data sharing and privacy — but they still want to fly and take part in events.

With so many people wanting them, market forces will make many forgeries of varying quality readily available, very soon. Criminals will likely take advantage of the fact that there are no established standards for these documents;  there a number of proposed certificates, many of them printed on paper or cards, and there are no imminent signs of consolidation. Design standards, like those required worldwide for identity passports, are urgently needed — along with the introduction of sophisticated anti-fraud measures in the production. To start, moving away from paper documents would make counterfeiting more difficult.

Whatever happens, if or when vaccination passports are introduced, all business travelers are set to experience considerable delays in long queues as passports are being verified; and even longer queues if there are different designs and fake documents in circulation. Meeting planners will need to stay current on the latest developments related to travel-document requirements and share this information with their attendees. As restrictions and regulations continue to shift, meeting planners will play a key role in helping their attendees return to traveling safely and securely.

Adam Schrader is director of operations at travel risk intelligence company Riskline, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Riskline's security services are employed by small businesses and Fortune 500 companies across a wide range of industries.