Passport fraud has skyrocketed this month, with 120 people charged for the crime in August alone, nearly as many people as the entirety of 2019.
That’s around three people every day caught with fake IDs.
Immigration police warned that document fraud has surged since border restrictions were lifted after COVID-19 lockdown, including in Malta’s European neighbours.
In fact, EU border agency Frontex reported around 600 cases of document fraud in the last week.
But the issue has ballooned before the pandemic hit. In 2019, 159 people were caught with forged passports and other identification documents, a significant jump from just 62 that were arraigned in court in 2018.
In 2020, there have been 187 cases of ID fraud so far, making this a record year.
Out of the 120 cases this month, 90 were sentenced to prison, for terms between a month and two years.
Most came from Sudan, while Macedonia, Serbia, Russia, Albania and Brazil were also common nationalities of the accused. Some were caught with expired visas, working illegally or at the airport.
Police also warned that some were caught attempting to leave and enter the country hiding in containers, known as “stowaways”.
A criminal ring in West Africa is one lead authorities believe t0 be behind the sudden spike of illicit passports, allegedly making profits by selling passports for hundreds of euro.
The phenomenon is also common with asylum seekers, as the lengthy application process could incentive some to risk leaving illegally and using fraudulent documents.