SAN FRANCISCO – Small rectangular notes were put up for sale on Etsy, eBay, Facebook, and Twitter in late January. They were printed on cardboard, three inches by four inches, with razor-sharp black lettering. Sellers listed them for $ 20 to $ 60 each, with discounts on packages of three or more. Laminated ones cost extra.
All were fakes or fake copies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards given to people vaccinated against Covid-19 in the United States.
“We found hundreds of online stores selling the cards, possibly thousands have sold,” said Saoud Khalifah, founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools for detecting fake listings and reviews online.
The coronavirus has turned many people into opportunists, like those who hoarded bottles of hand sanitizer at the beginning of the pandemic or those who cheated recipients of their stimulus controls. Now online scammers have taken up the latest profit initiative: the little white cards that provide proof of shots.
Online stores selling counterfeit or stolen vaccination cards have skyrocketed in recent weeks, Khalifah said. The efforts are far from hidden, as Facebook pages with the name “Vax cards” and eBay offers with “blank vaccination cards” are openly haggling over the items.
Selling counterfeit vaccination cards could violate federal laws that prohibit copying of the CDC logo, legal experts said. If the cards were stolen and filled in with incorrect numbers and dates, they could also break identity theft laws, they said.
But the profiteers have made progress as the demand for cards from anti-vaccine activists and other groups has increased. Airlines and other companies recently stated that they may need proof of Covid-19 immunization so that people can travel or attend events safely.
The cards can also be central to “vaccination records” that provide digital proof of vaccination. Some technology companies that develop vaccination records require users to upload copies of their CDC cards. Los Angeles recently started using the CDC cards for its own digital vaccination record.
Last week, 45 attorneys general joined forces to call Twitter, Shopify, and eBay to stop selling counterfeit and stolen vaccination cards. Officials said they were monitoring the activity and feared that unvaccinated people would misuse the cards to attend major events, potentially spreading the virus and prolonging the pandemic.
“We’re seeing a huge market for these fake cards online,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania attorney general, whose office has been investigating fraud related to the virus. “This is a dangerous practice that undermines public health.”
April 8, 2021, 9:29 a.m. ET
The CDC said it was “aware of fraud related to counterfeit Covid-19 vaccination cards.” It urged people not to share pictures of their personal information or vaccination cards on social media.
Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify, and Etsy said that selling counterfeit vaccination cards is against their rules and that they are removing posts promoting the items.
The CDC introduced vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “easiest” way to keep an eye on Covid-19 shots. Counterfeit vaccination card sales increased in January, Khalifah said. Many people found the cards to be easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards have also been stolen from their workplaces by pharmacists and put up for sale, he said.
Many people who bought the tickets were against the Covid-19 vaccines, Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted of getting the cards.
“My body is my choice,” one commenter wrote in a Facebook post last month. Another person replied, “Cant wait to get mine, lol.”
Other shoppers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Khalifah said. Because some vaccines are two-shot vaccines, people can enter the wrong date on the card for a first vaccination, giving the impression that they will need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination centers have given people priority based on their second shots.
An Etsy seller who refused to be identified said she recently sold dozens of counterfeit vaccine cards for $ 20 each. She justified her actions by saying that she was helping people avoid a “tyrannical government”. She added that she did not plan to be vaccinated.
Vaccine advocates say they have been troubled by the distribution of counterfeit and stolen cards. To hold these people accountable, Savannah Sparks, a pharmacist in Biloxi, Miss., Began posting videos on TikTok last month identifying sellers of counterfeit vaccine cards.
In a video, Ms. Sparks explained how she tracked the name of a pharmacy technician in Illinois who snapped up several cards for himself and her husband and then posted them online about them. The pharmacy technician had not disclosed her identity, but rather linked the post to her social media accounts, in which she used her real name. The video has 1.2 million views.
“It made me so angry that a pharmacist would use her access and position this way,” said Ms. Sparks. The video drew the attention of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, which reported the video to a state board for further investigation.
Ms. Sparks said her work attracted critics and anti-vaccination campaigners, who threatened her and put her home phone number and address online. But she was not deterred.
“You should come first and work to ensure that people get vaccinated,” she said of pharmacists. “Instead, they are trying to use their positions to spread fear and help people circumvent the vaccine.”
Pennsylvania attorney general Mr Shapiro said that selling counterfeit and stolen cards is not only against federal copyright law, but it is most likely against civil and consumer protection laws that require an item to be used as advertised. The cards could also violate state impersonation laws, he said.
“We want them to stop immediately,” Shapiro said of the scammers. “And we want companies to take serious and immediate action.”