As a forensic accounting firm, SDC encourages individuals and businesses to be aware of all types of potential scams—whether they are perpetrated by employees or outside individuals. Awareness and knowledge are the first step to preventing and mitigating a wide range of scams.
Scammers and fraudsters are always on the hunt for new angles and approaches to keep their schemes profitable. We’ve already seen a number of new scams develop during the COVID-19 pandemic: PPE scams, pandemic assistance fraud, and phony vaccination waiting lists. Now, millions of Americans carry small paper COVID-19 vaccine cards in their wallets, and as pandemic restrictions loosen for vaccinated individuals in the US, fake vaccination card schemes have become rampant.
A Counterfeit Crisis
In recent months, in efforts to encourage vaccination, some businesses have started offering small perks, such as free doughnuts or alcoholic beverages, to customers with proof of vaccination. At the same time, businesses and many universities are now requiring proof of vaccination before allowing Americans to board cruises, enter some stores, and return to college classes. For example, airlines and the travel industry are weighing whether to require proof of vaccination for travel. Some countries, including Mexico, require visitors to submit negative COVID-19 tests for entry.
Much of the world is in the early stages of deciding how to ask employees, students, and travelers to prove they’ve been vaccinated, but many of the potential plans rely on those cards.
Bowdoin College and the University of New England have announced they will require students to be vaccinated come fall. Those with medical or religious exemptions will be permitted to return to campus but will be required to wear a mask and may not be permitted to participate in all school activities. At both of those institutions, vaccination cards will be part of the vetting process to ensure students are vaccinated.
According to Dr. James Jarvis of Northern Light Health, the vaccination cards were not designed to serve as a secure form of identification. “The intention of the cards was really rather to be able to show information back-and-forth between a patient and their healthcare providers,” Jarvis says. Such pending restrictions for unvaccinated individuals have prompted some people to search for false vaccination cards or make their own.
According to NBC News, specific directions showing how to forge vaccination cards have emerged across the internet in recent weeks. Online retail platforms – such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Shopify – have been flooded with listings for blank or falsified vaccination cards. According to the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), fake vaccination record cards have been advertised on social media websites as well as
e-commerce platforms and blogs. One listing offered eBay customers an “Authentic CDC Vaccination Record Card” for $10.99. Another listing was more subtle, offering a “Clear Pouch For CDC Vaccination Record Card” for $8.99, but customers instead received a blank vaccination card (and no pouch). Unvaccinated individuals can also seek out counterfeit proof of vaccination on the dark web. For some, all it takes is a quick search, a printer, and some cardstock.
“Paper anything is ripe for fraud,” said Nenette Day, an assistant special agent in charge at the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office who oversees whistleblower tips. Day said she has reviewed dozens of reported vaccination-card scams that range from Americans stealing blank cards to sharing tips on how to fake a card on social media.
There has been little progress in curbing the influx of phony vaccine cards, but momentum is building. The FBI has issued a warning, saying that creating and using a fake vaccine card is not only dangerous to the health and safety of yourself and others to represent yourself as vaccinated when you’re not, it’s also against the law and could lead to fines or jail time.
The FBI warning, issued on March 30, 2021, is direct:
“If you did not receive the vaccine, do not buy fake vaccine cards, do not make your own vaccine cards, and do not fill in blank vaccination record cards with false information. Misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated when entering schools, mass transit, workplaces, gyms, or places of worship, you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19.”
The FBI also recommends that individuals who do receive the vaccine do not post photos of their vaccine card on social media. “Your personal information could be stolen to commit fraud,” the release said. The New York State Senate, meanwhile, has passed a bill making it a felony to forge or possess fake immunization records.
While the formal mechanisms protecting against phony vaccine cards are still developing, organizations should be wary for a multitude of reasons if or when seeking proof of vaccination. As the situation develops and official guidance is released, SDC CPAs will continue to share information.