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The Fake Covid Card Marketplace

Health & Gender Policy Brief #130 | By: S. Bhimji | September 15, 2021

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Policy Summary

The pressure is now on the unvaccinated individuals. Many workplaces, restaurants, entertainment centers, hotels, the travel industry, and government offices are requiring mandatory vaccination for both employees and people who use their facilities. And like all things American, there is a thriving black market for fake vaccination cards.

The fake vaccination cards are sold all over social media platforms and the Dark net. These enterprising business people reply instantly and for less than $100 one can have an authentic-looking vaccination card.

Once you pay up in bitcoins or Apple Pay, the vaccine card is discreetly delivered to you within 24 hours. And most importantly, these cards are registered with the Covid database and come with a logo of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cards look original and so there is little chance that anyone can tell if you have had the vaccine. Tracing the money once paid is almost impossible.

Policy Analysis

With the rapid spread of the delta variant sweeping the US landscape, vaccine mandates are becoming common in most US cities including gyms, bars, sports clubs, and healthcare institutions; plus many indoor venues are now demanding that patrons show proof of vaccination before they can enter the premises.

But close to 40% of the adult American population is still reluctant to get the vaccine and to meet their needs there is a flourishing bogus inoculation card industry to help them get around the rules.

Besides social media, fake vaccine cards can be obtained on eBay, Skype, Whatsapp, and even Instagram. Despite several high-profile busts, law enforcement is doubtful that the business can be discontinued. The fly-by-night operations reach consumers with bogus phone numbers and the money is quickly transferred out of the country.

Many of the fake cards look exactly like the real deal and are hard to spot. Plus the cards are also registered with the Covid data bank making it even more difficult to prove that the person has not been vaccinated. This problem has partly arisen because there are thousands of healthcare workers going all over the country administering the vaccines and filling the cards at nursing homes, workplaces, schools, colleges, and so on. Hence, tracking these workers, when they injected the vaccine, and to whom is a big hurdle.

Photo taken from: WFLA

Law enforcement is working hard to catch up with these crooks and seizures of thousands of fake vaccination cards from China have occurred in several states. While some cards are of poor quality with typos and poor print quality, other fake vaccine cards look genuine. It is impossible to know how many people are using the fake vaccine cards

One way the FBI has started to counter the use of fake Covid cards is by increasing the penalties of up to 5 years in prison and a minimum of $5,000 in fines, but so far this has not been a major deterrent.

Unfortunately, resistance to the vaccine is still intense in many parts of the country, largely driven by disinformation. Many sites that sell these fake cards also have anti-vaccine slogans to encourage the buyer to purchase the cards. Aother problem is that some healthcare workers including nurses, pharmacists, and doctors have been known to sell REAL vaccine cards for money.

To prevent the widespread use of fake cards, the government is considering analog-digital cards or passports which are much more difficult to copy. But as long as paper cards exist, fraud will continue and it is unlikely that law enforcement will completely abolish this practice.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF). https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form

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