Report exposes fake PCR test scheme in Bulgaria

People in Bulgaria needing PCR tests to travel are being duped by fraudsters, according to a report on May 18 by Nova Televizia.

In one case, two people who had received the false PCR test certificates – without knowing that they were fake – were arrested at the Greek border when they presented them, the report said.

The scheme involves fake social media pages purporting to be those of legitimate laboratories.

Customers are “tested” by mobile teams – meaning a swab of the nose and mouth – but that swab never reaches a real laboratory.

Customers then are issued authentic-looking certificates, but these have fake data or data copied from a real PCR test done for someone else.

The fee for the fake certificate ranges from 100 to 150 leva (about 50 to 75 euro), the report said.

The customers usually find out about the fraud when their certificates are checked at the border.

Lawyer Georgi Dimitrov, counsel for the man and woman who were arrested at the Greek border, told Nova Televizia that victims of the scheme are taken into custody after inspectors contact the laboratory that supposedly issued the certificate and it is established that no test was done or was done for another person.

Dimitrov said that the “online service” usually remains around two to three days, before the fraudsters move on.

“It relies on fast turnover – a small number of users, over a short period of time. And then the model is repeated, only involving another laboratory,” he said.

Cybersecurity expert Lyubomir Tulev said that creating fake pages on social networks takes no more than a few minutes.

The pages arouse no suspicion in potential victims, he said.

“These profiles completely copy the look of the official laboratories in Bulgaria – logos, names, addresses. Most people, unfortunately, do not even realise that they have fallen victim to fraud, that is, they operate with the intent that this is a legitimate laboratory that simply uses social media for faster contact with its potential customers,” Tulev said.

Attempts to falsify official tests for Covid-19 are common, according to one of the certified laboratories, the report said. Most often, the reports that reach them are about abuses at the Bulgarian-Greek border.

Medical law specialist Dr Maria Petrova has encountered similar cases many times in her practice.

Petrova said that attempts to falsify official test results peaked last summer.

At the beginning of the active summer season, these attempts will become more frequent, according to tourism expert Konstantin Zankov.

“We know that when there is a lot of demand, there is a lot of supply – and attempted fraud too,” Zankov said.

Zankov said that people intending to travel should take tests in-person at official laboratories and not attempt to “save time” and fall victim to a scheme that could result in them being arrested.

For the rest of The Sofia Globe’s continuing coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria, please click here.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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