The police said they had broken up a network selling false evidence of health status and identified four suspects, including two minors, in an ongoing investigation.
“Thousands of users were registered on well-known communication platforms where fake green passes were offered for sale, with an absolute guarantee of anonymity, to be paid in cryptocurrency or vouchers for online shopping platforms, at a price between 150 and 500 euro ($175 to $590),” Italy’s postal police (Polizia Postale e delle Comunicazioni) said in a statement.
Police added they had shut down 32 groups within instant messaging app Telegram as part of the investigation.
The green pass became compulsory on Friday in Italy to gain entry into cinemas, museums, indoor sports venues, or for indoor dining at restaurants.
The pass shows that bearers have received at least one vaccine dose, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours.
It will also be required on long-distance trains and buses after September 1st, and will be mandatory for school and university staff as well as university students.
At the end of July, reports in Italian media revealed that fake passes were being sold on social networks.
A price list and different payment methods were reportedly offered on Telegram, with the cost rising to €120 for a paper version. Family packages offer people four or six green passes at a time, at a cost of between €300 and €450.
Potential buyers were promised a working QR code featuring their details within 48-72 hours without needing to be vaccinated, tested, or show proof of having recovered from Covid-19.
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Those found falsifying the Covid health pass will face penalties, according to media reports.
Failing to follow the rules can earn both customers and businesses a fine of between €400 and €1,000, while businesses that are found to repeatedly fail to check customers’ health passes risk being forced to close for up to ten days.
The police probe into the sale of fake health documents came as 20 million people downloaded their official green passes in the past three days, according to Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
“It’s an extraordinary number that shows the awareness and participation of citizens of our country in the fight against Covid,” Speranza wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile thousands of others have reportedly been unable to access the document due to technical problems in recent weeks, despite being vaccinated.