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Online fraudsters have a new offer for you: vaccine cards

SAN FRANCISCO – On Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter, small rectangular pieces of paper began to sell at the end of January. Printed on card stock, they measured three by four inches and featured crisp black lettering. The sellers have listed them for $ 20 to $ 60 each, with a discount on lots of three or more. Laminates cost extra.

All were fake or forged copies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards, which are given to people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in the United States.

“We found hundreds of online stores selling the cards, potentially thousands have been sold,” said Saoud Khalifah, founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake ads and reviews online.

The coronavirus has made opportunists many people, such as those who hoarded bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic or those who fooled the recipients of their stimulus checks. Now online crooks have hung on to the latest for-profit initiative: little white cards that provide proof of shots.

Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, Khalifah said. The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages called “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly selling the items.

Selling fake vaccination cards could violate federal laws that prohibit copying the CDC logo, legal experts have said. If the cards were stolen and filled with false numbers and dates, they could also violate identity theft laws, they said.

But the profiteers pushed forward as demand for the cards increased from anti-vaccine campaigners and other groups. Airlines and other businesses recently said they may require proof of Covid-19 vaccination so people can travel or attend events safely.

Cards can also become a central part of “vaccine passports”, which offer digital proof of immunizations. Some tech companies developing vaccine passports require people to download 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 general joined together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of fake stolen vaccine cards. Officials said they were monitoring activity and feared unvaccinated people would misuse the cards to attend big events, which could spread the virus and prolong the pandemic.

“We see a huge market for these fake cards online,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania attorney general, whose office investigated virus-related fraud. “It is a dangerous practice which undermines public health.”

The CDC said it was “aware of cases of fraud involving 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 have said selling fake vaccine cards is breaking their rules and removing posts advertising the items.

The CDC introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “easiest” way to track Covid-19 injections. In January, sales of fake vaccine cards began to increase, Khalifah said. Many people have found the cards easy to forge from samples available online. Genuine cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.

Many people who bought the cards were against the Covid-19 vaccines, Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly bragged about getting the cards.

“My body, my choice,” one commenter wrote in a Facebook post last month. Another person replied, “Can’t wait to have mine too, lol.”

Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Khalifah said. Because some vaccines are two-dose schedules, people may enter a wrong date for a first inoculation on the card, making it seem like they need a second dose quickly. Some state pharmacies and vaccination sites have given priority to people who are due for their second injection.

An Etsy salesperson, who declined to be identified, said she recently sold dozens of fake vaccine cards for $ 20 each. She justified her actions by saying that she was helping people escape a “tyrannical government”. She added that she was not planning to get the vaccine.

Vaccine supporters say they have been troubled by the proliferation of falsified and stolen cards. To hold these people accountable, Savannah Sparks, a pharmacist in Biloxi, Mississippi, began posting videos on TikTok last month, naming the sellers of fake vaccine cards.

In a video, Ms Sparks explained how she tracked down the name of an Illinois pharmacy technician who grabbed several cards for herself and her husband and then posted about it online. The pharmacy technician had not disclosed her identity, but linked the post to her social media accounts, where she was using her real name. The video has 1.2 million views.

“It made me so mad that a pharmacist would use her access and position in this way,” Ms. Sparks said. The video caught the attention of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, which said it had reported the video to a state board for further investigation.

Ms Sparks said her work attracted detractors and opponents of the vaccine, who threatened her and posted her phone number and address online. But she was not deterred.

“They should be the first to advocate for vaccinating people,” she said of pharmacists. “Instead, they try to use their positions to spread fear and help people avoid getting the vaccine.”

Mr. Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, said that in addition to violating federal copyright laws, the sale of counterfeit and stolen cards most likely violated civil and consumer protection laws which require that an item can be used as advertised. The cards could also violate state laws regarding identity theft, he said.

“We want to see them stop immediately,” Shapiro said of the scammers. “And we want to see companies take serious and immediate action.”

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