People continue to sell counterfeit vaccine cards, giving them to residents who refuse to take the shot.
RICHMOND – People want to travel again. They want to take cruises, fly to other countries and generally get the benefits that come from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Except some, both here in the Commonwealth and across the country, want the benefits without taking the shot. That’s where the counterfeit vaccine cards come in.
It’s a market Mark Herring and his office have been trying to shut down for a while. And he’s not alone. The Virginia attorney general joined 44 others across the nation this week, sending a letter to Twitter, Shopify and eBay.
No, the online retailers aren’t selling counterfeit vaccine cards – but some of the users on those platforms are.
Herring sent a letter to the companies’ CEOs. The intended recipients included Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, Tobias Lütke, CEO of Shopify, and Jamie Iannone, CEO of eBay.
The letter calls for three main actions from the three companies.
First, it requests that the companies monitor the marketing or selling or indication of availability of blank or fraudulently completed vaccine cards.
Second, it requests that the sites promptly take down ads or links identified through the sites’ monitoring.
Third, it asks that the three sites preserve records including the content, username and actual user identity pertaining to any such ads or links.
The letter states in part, “We are deeply concerned about this use of your platforms to spread false and misleading information regarding COVID vaccines. The false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threatens the health of our communities, slows progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and are a violation of the laws of many states. Multiple states’ laws provide for injunctive relief, damages, penalties and other remedies for such conduct.”
It’s not just a simple lie to go watch a baseball game or travel out of the country. Using counterfeit vaccine cards puts other people at risk. Anyone the fake card holder comes in contact with could be infected and they in turn could infect other people, all without knowing it.
“Individuals who purchase fraudulent vaccine cards and go out into our communities pretending to be vaccinated put the safety of others at risk,” Herring said. “It’s important that these companies and platforms crack down on the sale of these fake vaccination cards to make sure our communities are safe, and we remain on the right track I combating the COVID pandemic.”
By printing or purchasing fake vaccination cards, a person makes a false claim.
Providers give legitimate vaccination cards to individuals when they administer the vaccine. People who buy fake cards add their personal information to the paper so it appears they received the vaccine.
These deceptive cards threaten public health. They also slow progress to protect individuals from the virus. Furthermore, their sale and distribution violates state laws.
Ginger Thompson, the associate state director of communications for AARP Virginia, noted that so far, AARP’s Helpline staff have not had any calls about counterfeit COVID vaccination cards.
However, there are certainly opportunities for foul play, given some of the personal benefits that come along with the card.
“The fake vaccine cards could be used by unvaccinated people to gain access to events or places that require proof of vaccination for entry,” Thompson said.
However, the potential for harm could outweigh the benefit for those considering purchasing one of the counterfeit vaccine cards.
“You’re also giving personal identifying information to people you know are breaking the law – because you’re also breaking the law – so it’s reasonable to assume they’d use or sell your personal data,” Thompson said.
Also, even if an individual purchases a card, there’s no guarantee they’ll actually receive one. Then, they’re out of that money with their hands tied.
“There have been some reports that some of the offers themselves are fraudulent sales scams and people pay but don’t get anything – which of course the victims can’t report because they themselves were trying to break the law,” Thompson said.
An Aggressive Reaction
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has not remained silent on the counterfeit vaccination card issue. In March, the agency partnered with the Virginia Department of Health. The plan was twofold. First, they wanted to warn people that this was illegal. Second, there’s a very real possibility that people will give their personal information and get nothing in return.
“The FBI has been pretty aggressive on this and has said clearly that it is a crime to forge a government document – which is what the vaccination records are,” Thompson said.
Specifically, the unauthorized use of the seal of any U.S. agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a federal crime. And the CDC’s seal is on every legitimate COVID-19 vaccination card.
Thompson stressed the importance of not producing, purchasing or selling a blank or fake COVID-19 vaccination card.
“Bottom line: no one should engage in one of these offers because they are illegal,” Thompson said. “You would be knowingly doing business with criminals and that is not how you keep yourself safe.”
To report a scam, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 1-877-908-3360.
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]