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Bad Tourists Are Faking Covid Test Results. Here’s How to Stop Them. | Frommer's Jarun Ontakrai / Shutterstock

Bad Tourists Are Faking Covid Test Results. Here’s How to Stop Them.

The advent of pandemic travel restrictions has given rise to a whole new subset of bad tourists.

We're talking about the quarantine flouters, mask refuseniks, and other coronavirus corner-cutters and outright cheats who decide that the laws of government and virus transmission don't apply to them.

But the most brazen members of this group might be the vacationers who falsify Covid-19 test results to sneak past a destination's entry requirements. 

Late last year, reports began appearing of a thriving black market for travelers seeking counterfeit coronavirus results to get into the destinations that demand proof of a negative PCR test taken within three days of travel (that's the main requirement for entering nearly every Caribbean nation, for example). 

According to Vice, the definitely illegal use of forged travel documents has continued into 2021. Earlier this month, travelers were caught trying to pass off fake test results at airports in Croatia and Switzerland.

And those are just the ones who were discovered. 

Vice spoke with a pair of anonymous travelers who both said they used editing software such as Photoshop and Microsoft Paint to alter the dates on old Covid-19 tests. They presented the doctored docs to board international flights—and in both cases, the schemes succeeded without legal consequences, according to the scofflaws.

Beyond the obvious selfishness (verging on sociopathy) of test fakers, the professed motivations for using counterfeit results include a lack of time to get tested within the three-day window, the expense of acquiring expedited results, and, in the case of the Switzerland arrest, a desire to escape a mandatory quarantine because the forger knew she was carrying the virus (Lord help us). 

One of the reasons that faked results can escape notice is that the guidelines given to employees at gates and checkpoints vary by airline, airport, and country. The Vice report includes confirmation from a rep with the aviation industry group Airlines for America that staff members "tasked with verifying that a passenger has a legitimate test result do not receive any specialized training."

But the challenge there is that Covid-19 test results can appear in many different formats and, when international travel is involved, many different languages. Gate agents and border officials don't always have the time or gumption to go all CSI on every document shoved under their noses. 

A standardized process for verifying results would go a long way toward solving the problem.

Several digital apps—in lieu of paper documents, which are easier to forge—are now being designed to verify results with some uniformity and to minimize opportunities for fraud.

Systems such as CommonPass (backed by the World Economic Forum) and the IATA Travel Pass (from the International Air Transport Association) allow passengers to upload their health information and test results securely. When the data is confirmed as factual, each passenger gets a personalized QR code for smartphone to present at borders and airport gates.

There, employees scan the code electronically, removing the need to peer at a bunch of different kinds of test results.

The plan is to incorporate proof of Covid-19 vaccination, should that become a travel requirement in the future. 

Determined hackers may still find ways to cheat the system, but at least they'll have to work a little harder. 

The need to standardize test results grows more urgent on January 26, when the United States begins requiring negative Covid-19 tests of all who enter from abroad, including U.S. citizens returning from vacation. 

Without a standardized system for verifying those results, we can expect enforcement to be a hodgepodge depending on which airlines and airports are doing the checking. 

All that variety makes a forgery harder to spot.