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Fake Covid vaccination card market booms


A photo of a hand using a magnifying glass to check the authenticity of s Covid-19 vaccine card, taken on August 15, 2021. The CDC logo will be on a card that’s real.

Getty Images A booming online market exists for Covid-19 fake vaccination cards.| Newsday | Getty Images

The online market for fake Covid-19 vaccination cards is booming.

There are thousands of sellers online claiming that they sell near perfect copies of these cards. Some even selling single cards for hundreds of dollars. While it’s unclear how many cards successfully make it to people who try to buy them, the  federal government is intercepting reams of them.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said that thousands of counterfeit cards were intercepted from China by the agency. “We basically stopped keeping track because there was so many.”

The spokesperson stated that almost all of the packages seized were from Shenzhen in China.

The FBI warned in March that buying, creating or selling fake vaccination cards are illegal, and the agency has made at least one high-profile arrest of a Chicago pharmacist who was allegedly selling them on  eBay. The sale of fake cards has been banned by all major American commerce and social media sites including Amazon, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter.

Telegram is a messaging platform based in the United Arab Emirates that allows users to offer cards for purchase. It rarely modifies user content. While Telegram is still sparsely used in the U.S., it’s become more popular in the past year, especially with the far right. In January, its founder, Pavel Durov, announced the app had reached half a billion active users worldwide.

Real versions of the cards, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help  people keep track of their shots, are free for whoever is vaccinated, which is also free. But since the U.S. doesn’t have a deliberate national system to validate who’s been vaccinated and only a handful of states have rolled out digital verification, the cards have inadvertently become one of the best ways to show evidence that someone’s been vaccinated.

Brian Linder from the emerging threat experts at Check Point said that around 10,000 Telegram users have been identified by cybersecurity firm Check Point as selling fake vaccination cards. 

After President Joe Biden signed two executive orders last Thursday that drastically increased the number of Americans who would have to get vaccinated to stay employed, the cost of black market fake cards roughly doubled from $100 to $200, Linder said. He said that sellers almost always request payment in bitcoin, and sometimes ask for specific information. This is not necessary to send a fake vaccine card.

Linder stated that people often don’t realise the truth of where their identities and financial data are going.

Telegram representatives didn’t reply to our request for comment.

Three self-proclaimed vaccine card sellers were contacted via Telegram by NBC News. They demanded payment in bitcoin for the cards. They demanded more information than it would take to send a blank card. This included date of birth, telephone number and a list of all claims. About why this information was needed to “register the information of a buyer”. The information will be forwarded to a doctor while the other said that it would reach the CDC. All three of them were unable to clarify what this registration meant.

Although it is unclear exactly how many Telegram sellers actually sent the fake cards to their customers, Customs and Border Protection intercepted thousands of them over recent months according to a spokesperson in an email statement.

According to the spokesperson, “Unvaccinated persons who send fraudulent vaccine cards are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.” The unauthorized use of any seal of an agency of government (such the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) can also be a federal offense and is punishable by Title 18 United States Code.