On Instagram, a US citizen sold several hundred fake coronavirus vaccination cards. Prices started at $200.00 per card, and for an extra fee, a specific employee with access registered the falsified data within New York state’s vaccination database. The fake vaccine cards were purchased by persons who worked in hospitals and nursing homes, among other locations.
At least 10 different names were illegally added to the New York state vaccination database. In addition to the primary two individuals indicted, authorities have also charged 13 fake card purchasers.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. believes that the parent company of Instagram (Facebook) should take a tougher stance regarding vaccine card fraud schemes. In the district attorney’s words, “the stakes are too high to tackle fake vaccination cards with whack-a-mole prosecutions.”
How authorities identified the scam
The fake vaccination cards appeared on a key suspects’ Instagram account in May of this year. Several weeks later, a New York state police investigator who learned of the venture tested out the online service himself. This fake vaccine card scheme seemed particularly advanced.
The investigator placed an order for a fake card. The card was to be registered within the state’s vaccine database. In July, the investigator reported receipt of a CDC coronavirus vaccination card, showing a specific name and date-of-birth, along with a cell phone screenshot indicating registration within the state’s database.
How the social media firms have responded
The Instagram account linked to the suspect involved in the aforementioned coronavirus card fraud case has been removed from the platform. A Facebook spokesperson stated that the company prohibits the solicitation or purchasing of COVID-19 cards on its platform.
“We will review any other accounts that might be doing the same thing,” and “We appreciate the DA’s work on this matter and will remove this content whenever we find it.”
Fake vaccination cards, a growing concern
As an increasing number of places begin to require proof of vaccination, authorities and the public have expressed concern regarding the easy availability of fake vaccine cards.
In cities like New York, proof of vaccination is required to visit a gym, to eat in restaurants, or to see a movie. Enforcement of these new regulations will begin on September 13th. Similarly, public school teachers and staff members in the city must obtain first doses of the coronavirus vaccine by September 27th. Universities and healthcare facilities are also implementing vaccine or weekly testing requirements.
Earlier this year, the owner of a Northern California establishment came under arrest after authorities alleged his solicitation of custom-tailored coronavirus vaccination cards. In the same geographic locale, a naturopathic physician was also arrested on charges pertaining to fake vaccination cards.
In the month of August, US customs and Border Protection stated that officers in Memphis, Tennessee, seized over 3,000 falsified coronavirus vaccine cards. In addition, a Chicago-based individual was arrested for e-Bay sales of more than 100 falsified vaccination cards.
Agents have confiscated vaccination cards shipped to the United States from overseas. Many of these cards are easy to identify due to misspellings, and incorrect linguistic translations. However, other scams make government agencies’ work a challenge.
Law enforcement agencies are overtly and covertly cracking down on the fraud. Creating, distributing or purchasing a fake coronavirus vaccination card or cards violates federal laws in the US. This type of criminal behavior can result in fines and up to five years in prison.
For more information about coronavirus scams, see Cyber Talk’s past coverage. Curious about coronavirus-related phishing scams? Here. Lastly, sign up for our newsletter here.