The fraudsters lure potential customers of fake certificates from queues of people waiting to be tested for Covid-19
Several criminal syndicates are attempting to profit from the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh by selling fake coronavirus test certificates to those in need of them.
The syndicates charges between Tk4000 and Tk8000 for each certificate, regardless of whether the result shown is positive or negative.
Each of these syndicates include hospital or medical staff, graphic designers, pathological experts and IT experts, said investigators.
Why the high demand?
Security officials investigating some of these cases said documents certifying the holder as coronavirus negative are in higher demand as many countries already made it mandatory for passengers to have Covid-19 negative for entry. Covid-19 certificates are also necessary for treatment at hospitals.
On the other hand, many service holders, including public servants, are allegedly acquiring fake positive certificates to enjoy different facilities offered for Covid-19 patients or to get leave from office, investigators said.
Furthermore, most ready-made garment factories require returning workers to have Covid-19 negative certificates to rejoin work, they added.
How do the syndicates do it?
Members of the syndicates usually use long queues of coronavirus test seekers as an opportunity to lure potential customers for fake certificates.
“In many cases, they are also putting advertisements on social media for people seeking such certificates. Once contact is made, they deliver the certificate on a case by case basis,” Colonel Ashiq Billah, spokesperson of the law and media branch of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), told Dhaka Tribune.
The gangs tend to first manage some original certificates and then scan them to prepare the fake documents, he added.
RAB on June 15 detained four members of a fraud ring from Mugda and seized several fake Covid-19 certificates and equipment used for forging the certificates.
Recently, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) sealed the Uttara and Mirpur branches of Regent Hospital on charge of issuing fake Covid-19 certificates. On July 6, RAB detained eight people from the hospital for several allegations, including the issuance of manipulated certificates.
The hospital had collected nearly 10,500 samples, out of which nearly 6500 were not tested. The Regent Hospital authorities provided fake certificates for the untested samples, said RAB spokesperson Ashiq Billah.
During the drive on July 6, RAB recovered more than 40 forged Covid-19 certificates with fake IPHN and NIPSOM logos, as well as signatures. RAB cross–checked the certificates and confirmed that they were forged.
RAB Executive Magistrate Sarwoer Alam, who conducted the drive on the day, said the fake certificates were made at an IT office next to one of the hospital buildings.
On June 24, police detained five people including Ariful Chowdhury, CEO of private healthcare organization JKG Health Care, for a Covid-19 testing scam.
The group used to collect samples from people who wished to be tested for Covid-19 and then sent them a false report for a fee, said investigators. Later, DGHS revoked the license of JKG Health Care for testing.
The scammers used to prepare fake reports based on their observations of the patients’ symptoms.
The group charged a minimum Tk5,000 for the collection of each sample, and $100 per sample from expatriates.
On June 4, police arrested two people from the Savar upazila health and family planning office for selling fake Covid-19 certificates.
None of the fake certificates contain national identification numbers or contact numbers of the people who took the tests, making it hard to trace collectors.
“We do not know right now on how many people have collected fake certificates, but we are trying to find out how many groups are working on this manipulation,” said RAB spokesperson Ashiq.
Health rights campaigners said Covid-19 positive patients getting fake negative certificates without being tested can fuel the spread of the virus in the community.
Bangladesh needs dedicated lab for testing expat workers
At least three countries- Japan, South Korea and Italy- have suspended flights from Bangladesh after passengers with Covid-19 negative certificates arrived and later tested Covid-19 positive.
The issue came into limelight after Roman daily newspaper Il Messaggero recently reported that at least 600 Bangladeshis infected with Covid-19 were moving around in Rome and Italy undetected.
Italy's deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri told Radio 24 that the number of possible positives from Bangladesh is around 600, and work is underway to trace these people and stop transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Italy on July 7 suspended flights to Rome from Bangladesh, after a spate of coronavirus cases within the community that authorities worry could expand.
On Friday, as many as 377 Bangladeshis returned to Bangladesh after they took a plane to Rome but were refused entry.
On May 30, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen during a meeting of the national committee for Covid-19 prevention first expressed his skepticism over the accuracy coronavirus tests in Bangladesh.
At the meeting, the minister said some Bangladeshi nationals went to Japan and South Korea with Covid-19 negative certificates after being tested in Bangladesh, but many of them turned out to be positive when they were tested again in those countries.
“It has created a negative impression of Bangladeshi nationals in those countries,” the minister said at the meeting.
He also emphasized the need for ensuring accurate testing for Covid-19, according to the minutes of the meeting.
Later, the committee decided to expand testing facilities and ensure accuracy of the tests being conducted.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has demanded special lab for testing expat workers, so that they cannot carry any fake certificates while travelling abroad.