Is your Covid-19 vaccine card FAKE? Here's how to stay away from forged versions on eBay, Etsy and Shopify
Fake vaccine cards swarming the US right now, as most businesses require proof of vaccination. Here's how you can stay away from the illegal cards
Have you been vaccinated? If so, you would have received a little white card with details like the vaccine, date and site of vaccination. This tiny card is now becoming a valuable resource, so valuable in fact that forged and fake ones are now available for purchase online. These cards have become prized possessions, and are often widely shared on social media, allowing forgers to accurately recreate them with little hassle. The fake cards can significantly harm our fight against Covid-19, which is why you need to be extra cautious about them.
You can receive your card along with your Covid-19 vaccine (which is free). Buying a fake card can also lead to other long-term issues since vaccine records are tracked by the State Health Department. Buying a fake vaccine card also means you are in violation of federal law and could be punished. Here's everything you need to know about the vaccine card, and how to spot a fake. If you come across one, do inform the police or file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
What is a vaccine card?
The small white card is just a bit bigger than your average credit card. You will get your card when you get your first shot and are required to carry it with you at all times. The card will be filled in by the person administering the vaccine since it contains details like the dose numbers. For now, the cards are actual physical cards you will have to carry while centers look into digital versions. If you lose your card, you can get a replacement from your state's health department. The CDC has a list of all the contact details for each state. Alternatively, if you get vaccinated at a Wallgreens or Sams Club, they may be able to reprint your card.
It is absolutely essential you carry your card with you at all times. Some countries like Iceland require proof of vaccination, as do cruises and even possible airlines. A good way to protect your card is by taking a photo of it and storing it safely on your phone, or in the cloud. The FBI has urged people not to share their cards on social media for two reasons. Firstly, you could be prone to identity theft since the card also contains your medical record number, full name, and date of birth. Secondly, it makes it easier for people to counterfeit the cards, which is now becoming a massive issue.
The New York Times, which was the first to report on the issue, said that false cards have been available since January. Scammers have been using Facebook, eBay, Etsy, and Shopify to sell these cards, and anti-vaxxers have been reportedly lapping them up. Some cards go for $20, others for up to $60, with discounts available on bundles.
'Fake cards are a shame'
Fake vaccine cards are extremely harmful to all of us. For one, it allows people who haven't been vaccinated to move around freely and spread the virus to others. Secondly, it is possible that your personal information is being used by another person on their card. Finally, it also undermines the complex system the government has set to track vaccine doses. Since the cards forge the data, it means that wrong and incorrect information is circulating in the public.
Another major headache is that these cards allow people to undermine the vaccination system. Many states and centres have begun prioritising those who need their second dose, so some scammers are entering false information for their first dose in order to receive the second.
When the vaccine is free, why then would people turn to fake cards? Reportedly, it is to evade the government. According to the NYT, one seller told the paper that she was selling the cards to help people evade a "tyrannical government". Saoud Khalifah, the founder of Fakespot, told The New York Post, "Some people might not want the vaccine, but they want to go somewhere. So they’ll buy this fake vaccine card with a fake stamp and trick their way through the system. It’s a shame."
The scams haven't gone unnoticed, the National Association of Attorney Generals had slammed sites for allowing the cards to be available on their platforms. In an April 1 letter, the bipartisan coalition wrote, "the false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threaten the health of our communities, slow progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and are a violation of the laws of many states." The letter calls for tech CEOs to ramp up monitoring, pull down links selling fake cards and preserve the information so that they can be prosecuted.
Spotting a fake card
Spotting a fake card is not easy. Thanks to social-media-savvy users, scammers have been able to accurately recreate the vaccine cards, right down to the CDC logo. Since most cards are filled in by hand with a pen, forging them takes only a few seconds if you have the blank card. To make matters worse, Tom's Guide found a website with detailed instructions on how to forge a card and even included a PDF version of a blank card to print out. "This paperwork will not stand up to digital scrutiny," the instructions caution according to the website. "This is only going to allow you to get through a police/military checkpoint at most."
So how do you tell a fake card from the original? There's no real way to do so once the card is filled in, but there are steps you can take to safeguard yourself from getting one. The first step is to get vaccinated, at a proper site like a public health department camp or pharmacy. When you get your first dose, you will get the card with your data. Do not share images of the card with anyone. Do not search for fake cards, or ask others for them. If you aren't vaccinated, do not attempt to get a card. Remember, You can get one only at the site of your vaccination.
It's also a good idea to keep an eye out for fake cards on the internet. Despite efforts by Etsy, Shopify and others, scammers are getting increasingly smart about how they sell these fake cards. If you spot any links online about getting vaccine cards, that do not belong to a recognised source, report them immediately. It's also a good idea to teach your friends and family about the scams, so they do not fall prey to fake cards.
A fake card could lead to serious trouble. Making fraudulent use of an official U.S. government seal is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. CBS also reported that "individuals who forge vaccination cards can also be charged criminally for knowingly putting other people at risk of getting COVID-19." Those charges can range from criminal negligence to reckless homicide according to a defence attorney CBS spoke to.
Unfortunately, these scammers aren't likely to go away any time soon. The low-tech cards are right now our best defense against the virus until we get a better solution. That's where vaccine passport apps come in. These apps make it much harder to scam proof of vaccination but aren't easy to implement. Not getting the vaccine is a controversial, but highly personal choice. However, there is no reason or sense in scamming a fake card. Doing so only puts our return to normal further away, and puts others at great risk.