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Having a fake COVID-19 vaccination card could mean big fines, prison time

Currently, there's no federal system to authenticate vaccination cards, which makes it easy for counterfeiters

ST. LOUIS — A father-son duo from California might've expected colorful beaches and sunshine on their Hawaiian vacation.

Instead, using fake vaccination cards to board their flight landed them in serious trouble.

They are now facing hefty fines and up to 5 years in prison.

“We consider this not just a fraud issue, but we consider this to be a public health issue,” said Josh Morrill, Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI.

The penalties

The FBI warned that creating or buying a fake vaccination card is a criminal offense carrying fines and up to 5 years in prison.

“One federal statute makes it a crime for the unauthorized use of the seal of a U.S. government agency,” said Morrill.

According to the FBI, there are different federal statutes that can be used to prosecute cases involving fake cards. The severity of the case will dictate which statutes will be used to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Some of the statutes that can be used for prosecution in these cases are:

  • Government seals wrongfully used (18 USC 1017) which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine.
  • Embezzlement and theft of public money, property, or record (18 USC 641  ), which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a fine.
  • Wire fraud (18 USC 1343), which carries a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison and a fine.

Rise in demand

According to NBC News, more than 700 colleges and universities now require proof of vaccination. Many businesses, employers and event venues are also requiring proof of vaccination. 

Once the FDA gives final approval for the COVID-19 vaccine, the FBI anticipates the demand and production of fake vaccination cards will increase.

The counterfeit market for fake cards is easy to tap into on social media.
One Instagram account offered cards for just $25. Some sellers are charging up to $200.

An account on Telegram also selling fake cards is telling prospective buyers to 'protect yourself and your loved ones from the poisonous COVID-19 vaccine'.

Credit: nbc

The I-Team even found fake cards for sale on Etsy, advertised as 'vaccination record books' for pets. Many of the listings mentioned have been taken down.

Credit: ksdk

“Even just in your neighborhood from your neighbor down the street, people are printing them locally and selling them that way as well,” said Morrill.

How to spot the fakes

It can be hard to tell the real from the fake. Currently, there's no federal system to authenticate the vaccination cards and that makes it easy for counterfeiters.

“Sometimes it's very easy to spot a fake one. At other times it can be a little bit more difficult,” said Morrill.

A shipment of fake vaccination cards from China recently seized by US customs gives us some clues about how to spot counterfeit cards; misspellings, cheap card quality and unfinished words are the main giveaways.

“If you identify someone who's selling these cards, we ask that you report it to the FBI or the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Morrill.

To report suspicious activity involving fake vaccination record cards: