• Dr. Soumi Eachempati

Be prepared for fraud when spectator sports reopen

Updated: Feb 19

Last week Gov Cuomo announced that arenas will open on 2/23 in NYC at the Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, and other public venues with over 10,000 seat capacity. These venues will initially open with 10% capacity only but hopefully the number of fans would be increased over time if initial experience showed the process were safe.

Some specific rules were revealed for admission to these events while others remained dubious. Face coverings, social distancing, and temperature checks upon arrival would be required. Fans would be required to have a PCR test within 72 hours for admittance. According to news reports describing the first approved venue, the Barclays Center would mail fans a PCR test for Covid-19 and have them produce the result upon entry. As speculated, the security guards would check tickets and test results.

Using Covid-19 test results as a vehicle for access is not new. Many locales and entities already require some form of Covid-19 testing for entry. As of 1/26, the US the CDC required a negative test for active Covid-19 mandatory for passengers boarding international flights to the United States. Some US states including New York require one or more negative Covid-19 tests to avoid travel quarantine. In many countries of the EU, a negative Covid-19 test is required for entry.

After seeing admission rules to New York venues, fraudsters started rejoicing.

Purchasing fake Covid-19 test results has already become a market in many regions. Authorities worldwide have already detected multiple fraudulent Covid-19 testing scams. A forgery ring operating out of Charles de Gaulle airport selling fake Covid-19 test results in a digital format was broken up last week. Other incidents were reported in Brazil, the UK, Jakarta and the Philippines.

Fake testing sites have also been detected in the US. Early on in the pandemic, antibody fraud was reported by the FBI. More recently, Kentucky, New York, Washington State have seen marketing of fake Covid-19 tests for entry. As scary as access with nonexistent testing is, fake entry is not the only risk. Buyers of these fake products have been subject to identity theft and stolen social security numbers. In other scams, Medicare and Medicaid IDs were also pirated.

Allowing fraudulent tests to surface at spectator sports and other public events without herd immunity poses devastating threats to society. Unsafe admittance endangers fans, venue workers, and even players. Additionally, after the inevitable super spreader events become traced back to the venue, shutdown of facility will follow. This last development poses massive threats to society as a whole as economic recovery is so many areas is still tenuous. Clearly, irresponsible reopening that is predicted to fail serves no genuine purpose.

With this background, it is peculiar that New York State would be so lax with these Covid-19 test results. This very week, the US Justice Department issued warnings for fraudulent test results. Minimal scrutiny of test results by accepting email or paper results invites fraud. As usual in the pandemic era, smart software and cloud-based solutions will be the answer. Actual integration with carefully constructed HIPAA-compliant health platforms is the solutions. The Common Pass tries to do this for international flights but requires integration of health records by a physician instead of the individual and poses other access and logistics issues.

While the pandemic is flourishing and herd immunity still a dream, testing prior to entry at public events and for travel will reduce Covid-19 transmission risk and enhance safety. However, no testing system will be effective unless it authenticates the test results and the individual to which it belongs. The test also should be a validated PCR test or the equivalent. Utilization of specially created digital solutions with safeguards for fraud of these elements in a HIPAA-compliant platform will support these efforts as society attempts a return to normalcy.



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