SAN FRANCISCO – On Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter, small rectangular sheets of paper went on sale in late January. Printed on cardboard, they measured three by four inches and included fresh black letters. The sellers listed them for $ 20 to $ 60 each, with a discount on packages of three or more. Laminates cost extra.
All were forgeries or forged copies of vaccination cards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention given to people who had been inoculated against Covid-19 in the United States.
“We found hundreds of online stores selling cards, potentially thousands were sold,”
The coronavirus has made opportunists out of many people, such as those who piled up bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic or those who deceived recipients with their stimulus checks. Online fraudsters are now sticking to the latest profit-making initiative: small white cards that provide proof of photos.
Online stores offering fake or stolen vaccine cards have grown in recent weeks, Mr Khalifa said. The effort is far from hidden, as Facebook pages called “wax cards” and eBay’s lists of “empty vaccine cards” openly export items.
The sale of fake vaccination cards could violate federal laws that prohibit copying the CDC logo, legal experts said. If the cards are stolen and filled in with fake numbers and dates, they could also violate identity theft laws, they said.
However, profits continued as demand for the cards increased from anti-vaccine activists and other groups. Recently, airlines and other companies said they may require proof of Covid-19 immunization so that people can travel safely or attend events.
Cards can also become central to ‘vaccination passports’, which offer digital evidence of vaccinations. Some technology companies that develop vaccine passports have people upload copies of their CDC cards. Los Angeles has also recently started using CDC cards for its own digital proof of immunization.
Last week, 45 state attorneys rallied to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop selling counterfeit and stolen vaccine cards. Officials said they were monitoring the activity and were concerned that unvaccinated people would misuse the cards to attend major events, potentially spreading the virus and prolonging the pandemic.
“We see a huge market for these fake cards online,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, whose office is investigating fraud related to the virus. “This is a dangerous practice that undermines public health.”
The CDC said it was “aware of cases of fraud with counterfeit Covid-19 vaccine cards”. He asked people not to share images of their personal information or vaccine cards on social media.
Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts advertising the items.
The CDC introduced vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to track Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of counterfeit vaccine cards had begun to rise, Mr Khalifa said. Many people have found that the cards are easily tampered with by samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen from pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.
Many people who bought the cards were against the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr Khalifa said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people publicly brag that they received the cards.
“My body is my choice,” a commentator wrote in a Facebook post last month. Another man replied, “I can’t wait to take mine, too, haha.”
Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr Khalifa said. Because some vaccines are two-dose regimens, people may enter a fake date for the first inoculation on the card, which seems to need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and government vaccination sites have given priority to people because of their second photos.
An Etsy saleswoman who declined to be identified said she had recently sold dozens of fake vaccine cards for $ 20 each. She justified her actions by saying she was helping people avoid a “tyrannical government”. She added that she had no plans to get vaccinated.
Proponents of the vaccine say they are concerned about the spread of counterfeit and stolen cards. To hold these people accountable, Savannah Sparks, a pharmacist in Biloxi, Miss., Began posting videos to TikTok last month, naming counterfeit vaccine card sellers.
In a video, Ms. Sparks explained how she traced the name of a pharmacy technician in Illinois who collected several cards for herself and her husband and then posted about it online. The pharmacy technician did not reveal his identity, but linked the post to his social media accounts, where he used his real name. The video has 1.2 million views.
“I was so angry that a pharmacist used her approach and position in this way,” Ms. Sparks said. The video caught the attention of the Illinois Pharmacists’ Association, which said it had released the video to the state council for further investigation.
Ms Sparks said her work had attracted ill-wishers and opponents of the vaccines, who had threatened her and published her home phone number and address online. But she was irresistible.
“They should be at the forefront of advocating for people to be vaccinated,” she told pharmacists. “Instead, they try to use their positions to spread fear and help people get around getting the vaccine.”
Mr. Shapiro, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, said that in addition to violating federal copyright laws, selling counterfeit and stolen cards most likely violates civil and consumer protection laws that require an item to be used as is advertised. Cards can also violate state laws regarding self-presentation, he said.
“We want to stop them immediately,” Mr Shapiro said of the fraudsters. “And we want to see companies take serious and immediate action.”