People refusing vaccination against Covid in France are paying hundreds of euros for fake health passes in an online black market that has flourished since the government required proof of vaccination for entry into cafes, inter-city trains and other public places.
Since July, French residents have had to show proof they have either been vaccinated, tested negative for Covid-19 or have recovered from the disease in order to enter museums, cinemas or sports venues.
That ruling was extended to restaurants, bars, hospitals and long-distance trains earlier this month as President Emmanuel Macron seeks to compel people to get vaccinated.
While surveys show most French support the measure, opponents of compulsory vaccination have held protests for five straight weekends.
And a black market for fraudulent health passes has sprung up on social media platform Snapchat -- despite the risk of jail sentences.
Accounts on the social networking application openly advertise the counterfeit documents.
Some ads say: "Your health pass by email in eight to 10 hours maximum", "Vaccination is optional thanks to our service" or "Say no to the vaccine and get a health pass without getting vaccinated".
A 28-year-old event planner told the French AFP news agency he obtained his fake health pass for 350 euros. The Covid-19 vaccine is free in France.
He said he isn't anti-vaccine, but he doesn't feel that young people should be forced to get vaccinated since, he claims, they aren't particularly vulnerable.
He said getting regular tests to show that he isn't infected wasn't really an option as he risks a positive result which means he couldn't work.
"Security guards told me that even if I am the person organising the party, if I'm positive, I can't get into my own event," he said.
Fake pass users face three years in jail
All one needs to do is type in "fake health pass" to find dozens of offers on Snapchat. They can also be found on Facebook.
One has to provide all the basic information necessary to have real health pass, including a French health system number.
"I send all the information to my doctor contact who registers it in the French national health system database and the phone app for the health pass," said one counterfeiter.
As a health worker -- some of whose accounts have been hacked -- enters the information into the computer system, the person is considered by authorities to have been fully vaccinated and the health pass itself is real, not fake.
French health passes contain a QR code that is scanned by security guards at entrances to check against the national database, so counterfeiters prefer hacked medical staff accounts to fraudulently create real passes.
One doctor in southwestern France filed a complaint after discovering that his profile on the health insurance website had been used to make 55 fake passes.
Prices range between 140 and 350 euros.
The counterfeiters face prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to 150,000 euros. Those who make use of fake health passes could spend three years behind bars.