The market for fake Covid vaccination cards is exploding

A photo of a hand using a magnifying glass to verify the authenticity of the Covid-19 vaccination card, taken on August 15, 2021. An actual card will have the CDC logo on it.

Raychel Brightman | Press day | Getty Images

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

Thousands of online sellers claim to offer near-perfect copies of the cards at prices that have risen sharply in recent weeks, with some now selling a single card for hundreds of dollars. While it is not known how many cards successfully reach people trying to buy them, the federal government is intercepting tons of them.

A spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection said the agency had intercepted thousands of packets of fake cards from China that “we basically stopped tracking because there were so many.”

Almost all of the packages seized were from Shenzhen, China, the spokesperson said.

The FBI warned in march that buying, creating or selling fake immunization cards is illegal and that the agency has carried out at least one high profile arrest from a Chicago pharmacist who allegedly sold them on eBay. All major U.S. social media and commerce sites, including Etsy, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter, have banned the sale of the cards.

But users offering cards for sale are rampant on the UAE-headquartered Telegram messaging app, which rarely moderates user content. Although Telegram is still little used in the United States, it is become more popular last year, especially with the far right. In January, its founder, Pavel Durov, announcement the app had reached half a billion active users worldwide.

The actual versions of the cards, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help people track their injections, are free to anyone who is vaccinated, which is also free. But since the United States does not have a deliberate national system to validate who has been vaccinated and only a handful of states have rolled out digital verification, cards have inadvertently become one of the best ways to prove someone has been vaccinated.

Researchers at cybersecurity firm Check Point have identified around 10,000 Telegram users claiming to sell fake vaccination cards, said Brian Linder, the company’s emerging threats expert.

After President Joe Biden signed two executives Last Thursday, which dramatically increased the number of Americans who would have to get vaccinated to stay employed, the cost of fake black market cards roughly doubled from $ 100 to $ 200, Linder said. Sellers almost always ask for payment in bitcoin and often ask for specific personal information that would not be needed to send in a fake blank vaccination card, he added.

“What people don’t realize of course is that only God knows where their identity and financial information ends up,” Linder said.

Telegram representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Three self-proclaimed vaccination card sellers, contacted by NBC News on Telegram, said they demanded bitcoin payment for the cards. Everyone asked for more personal information than would be needed to mail a blank card, like date of birth and phone number, making the claims a truth. why they needed such information to “record” a buyer’s information. One said the information would be sent to a doctor, while another said it would go to the CDC. None of the three were willing to explain what such a recording really meant.

While it’s not clear how many sellers on Telegram actually send the fake cards, customs and border protection have intercepted “thousands” of them in recent months, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. .

“Unvaccinated people who use fraudulent vaccination cards put themselves, their loved ones and their fellow Americans at risk for contracting COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. In addition, unauthorized use of the seal of an official government agency (such as that of the Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is a federal crime and may be punishable under the title. 18 of the United States Code. “

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