WebMD News Brief

Online Scammers Offer Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Cards

April 15, 2021 -- Hundreds of online scammers are trying to sell forgeries of COVID-19 vaccination cards that show people have been inoculated, according to CBS News.

Online posts are offering blank or forged versions that look like the CDC-issued card on ecommerce sites such as eBay, Etsy and Shopify. The scammers are also running ads for fake cards on social media sites such as Facebook.

“In January, we started noticing Shopify stores selling fake vaccination cards, and that was really interesting because it introduced a new dynamic to society where people can counterfeit immunity and interplace it with a fake card,” Saoud Khalifah, CEO of Fakespot, told CBS News.

“It’s a new concept that we haven’t seen before,” he said.

Fakespot uses artificial intelligence to detect online retail scams, and the company has identified hundreds of sellers that have begun to sell fake vaccination cards. Khalifah estimated they’ve attempted to sell thousands of false cards during the past three months.

Online sites have banned some of these users, he added, but the scammers often reappear under a different name. One seller, for instance, listed a pack of four blank cards for $80. That seller, which was listed on Shopify, is now defunct.

In early April, the National Association of Attorneys General called on Shopify, Twitter and eBay to stop users from selling or advertising fake vaccine cards on their platforms. Led by the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee, the letter was signed by nearly all states.

“Legitimate vaccination cards are given by providers when they administer the vaccine,” they wrote in the letter. “People who buy fake cards can have their own information added to the card or add it in themselves, so it appears they have been vaccinated when they have not.”

Shopify has attempted to shut down users who use the platform to sell fraudulent vaccine cards, the company told CBS News. Etsy, eBay and Twitter also told CBS they are blocking or removing users who sell phony cards because it violates their terms and policies.

Last month, the FBI said that selling fake vaccination cards violates federal laws that prohibit the unauthorized use of an official government’s seal, such as the CDC seal used on legitimate vaccine cards. Using an official government seal is a felony that can be punishable by up to five years in prison, the FBI said. Individuals with a fake vaccine card can be charged with knowingly putting others at risk for COVID-19 if they use it to travel, attend events or return to work.

“If you did not receive the vaccine, do not buy fake vaccine cards, do not make your own vaccine cards and do not fill-in blank vaccination record cards with false information,” the FBI wrote in the announcement. “By misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated when entering schools, mass transit, workplaces, gyms or places of worship, you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19.”

Tools that digitize paper records could combat this type of fraud by verifying and storing people’s records, CBS News reported. However, that likely won’t solve all of the issues.

“That would make the counterfeiting of physical papers difficult to conduct, but there will still be hackers who can hijack other people’s identities, so it won’t be bulletproof,” Khalifah said.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

CBS News, “Scammers are selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards online.”
National Association of Attorneys General, “NAAG Works to Prevent the Online Sale of Fraudulent COVID Vaccination Cards.”
Federal Bureau of Investigation, “If You Make or Buy a Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, You Endanger Yourself and Those Around You, and You Are Breaking the Law.”
 

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