Covid-19: Black market sales of vaccination passes reported to police

PM Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland and some low-vaccinated regions will enter the new Covid-19 Protection Framework at the red setting, with the rest of the country doing so at the orange setting. (First published on November 20, 2021)

Vaccine passes are being offered for sale on a social media platform for $10, with transactions being done in bitcoin currency.

One anonymous post offers $50 for passes and claims they are “real”. “We pay $ for vaccine passes, and then we sell them to members of the public who need them,” the post read.

“Since the vaccine passes are real they will be accepted at shops, unless they require an ID check.”

The posts were spotted by a member of FACT Aotearoa – a group working against the spread of conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine activity – and reported to police on Monday morning.

* Covid-19 NZ: Most of New Zealand to start at orange, Auckland and lower-vaccinated areas to start at red
* Covid-19: How bars and restaurants will work under the traffic light system
* Covid-19 NZ: Jacinda Ardern says vaccine passes don't need to be scanned, Ministry of Health says they do

My Vaccine Pass is the Government’s vaccine certification system. It is a QR code that can be shown digitally or on printed paper, allowing venues to check whether a person has been vaccinated against Covid-19 or not.

Under the traffic light system, the passes will be needed to attend large festivals and many venues . Venues that use the passes will be able to operate more freely, even when there is Covid-19 in the community.

An amendment to the Covid-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill makes the buying and selling of a vaccine certificate a criminal offence with penalties of up to six months in prison and up to $12,000 in fines.

A vaccine pass can be on a phone or a hard copy.
A vaccine pass can be on a phone or a hard copy.

A police spokeswoman said complaints “regarding the misuse/fraudulent use of vaccine passes were dealt with on a case-by-case basis”.

Michael Dreyer​, manager of national digital services at the Ministry of Health, said fraudulent use or misuse of My Vaccine Passes “will be taken very seriously and not be tolerated”.

“Police are able to enforce the legitimate use of the My Vaccine Pass and can ask to check that a person’s ID matches their pass, or do spot checks at venues.”

Dreyer said those checking My Vaccine Passes could ask for photo ID to verify the pass was issued to the person using it.

Dr Andrew Chen says it’s not a surprise people are buying and selling the Vaccine Pass for use by the unvaccinated, but it does create risk.
Dr Andrew Chen says it’s not a surprise people are buying and selling the Vaccine Pass for use by the unvaccinated, but it does create risk.

Auckland University researcher Andrew Chen​ said efforts to use the pass fraudulently were not unexpected, particularly when the traffic light system came into force.

“I’m certain it’s happening elsewhere because it’s so easy to do.”

He said people who wanted to remain unvaccinated “would be highly motivated to find a way to continue living their lives as they would have”.

The passes were not very “fraud-proof”, and the Government’s advice to businesses making use of a verification app optional was “unfortunate”.

An example of what the Covid-19 vaccine pass looks like.
An example of what the Covid-19 vaccine pass looks like.

“The issue with the passes is that anybody can make a copy and give it to anybody else.”

Businesses requiring proof of vaccination to enter could sight the pass only, Chen said.

“In that case, anyone carrying anything that looks like a pass will be let in, so there’s no fraud protection there whatsoever.”

Chen said he expected many people using fake passes would get away with it and this would create some degree of risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Other more fraud-proof certification methods would require everyone to have a smartphone, or would be much more expensive and take a longer time to develop, Chen said.

He believed businesses that were required to check for vaccine passes should have to use the verification app “at the very least”.

He said this would detect some people who were trying to use a completely fake pass with no real QR code, and those who had changed the name on the pass.

“That would give everybody a lot more assurance at a lot less cost.”

A spokeswoman for the Restaurant Association of New Zealand said members had been advised by the Government it was optional to verify vaccine passes, but there was an expectation a “reasonable number” would be verified.

She said they were seeking more clarity on this.

Checking photo ID was also optional, but its 2500 members had been advised this should be done when there was suspicion the pass did not belong to the person using it, or was a fake.

“Whether businesses choose to do this or that, it really depends on the business, the business owner, and their style of establishment.”