Americans nationwide are being vaccinated in record numbers. To date, over 100 million Americans are considered fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine. As these individuals post pictures of their vaccination cards, experts are urging them to edit out not only personal information but the batch number of their dose. This is due to the increasing number of fraudulent vaccination cards being offered online and the risk of scammers stealing one’s identity.
In a recent incident, a California bar owner was arrested after officials found he sold fake COVID-19 vaccine cards for $20 per card, officials announced Wednesday. The bar owner, Todd Anderson, was arrested Tuesday after selling the counterfeit cards to undercover agents, CBS 13 reported. According to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, at least eight cards were sold to customers from the bar, The Old Corner Saloon in Clements.
“We were able to purchase four, and then today we located 30 blank cards, laminating machines, laminate, cutters and things to manufacture the cards,” Luke Blehm, a spokesperson from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, told the local news outlet KOVR. Investigators from the department took over after a local sheriff’s office got a tip that the fake vaccine cards were being manufactured, laminated, and sold out of the bar. They were able to buy the fake vaccine cards on multiple occasions in April, a press release said, noting that the act was “a violation of the California Penal Code.”
According to ABC News, 59-year-old Anderson was charged with falsifying a medical record, falsifying a seal, several counts of identity theft, and possession of a loaded, unregistered firearm, authorities said. Being in possession of a loaded, unregistered firearm is a felony in California, officials said.
In addition to his arrest, the department plans to “file disciplinary action” against the bar, which could cause its liquor license to be revoked. Officials are also investigating if an employee was involved with making and distributing the fake cards, the department told CBS 13.
While experts have warned of the risk of fraudulent cards being distributed, Blehm noted that this criminal case may be the first of its kind. “That we know of, this is the only case that’s ever been done — even nationwide possibly,” Blehm told KTXL. “We did some research to try to find similars. They may be out there, but we just don’t know and haven’t seen them.”
Warnings of fraudulent cards come amid the announcements of easing restrictions for those who get the COVID-19 vaccine nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals who are vaccinated no longer need to observe the most stringent COVID-19 safety regulations, including wearing a mask.
Additionally, experts believe the cards may eventually be needed for traveling and other activities, thus increasing the demand for them. The vaccination cards are provided to all those who are vaccinated and include the date and location of each shot alongside one’s personal information.
With the increasing demand for proof of the cards, those who refuse to get vaccinated are looking into fake cards. In March, the FBI issued a warning regarding this trend, noting that not only does it increase the risk of COVID-19 but it is illegal to both buy or sell the fraudulent cards, which could be charged under forgery. But like those who distribute fake IDs, those who wish to make and sell fake vaccine cards don’t seem to be afraid. Though in this case, a counterfeit vaccine card carries additional danger than a fake ID does, because of the risk of COVID-19 spread.
“It is disheartening to have members in our community show flagrant disregard for public health in the midst of a pandemic,” San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said in the statement.
“Distributing, falsifying or purchasing fake COVID-19 vaccine cards is against the law and endangers yourself and those around you,” she continued. “The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office is grateful for the partnership with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for their work in this case.”
In efforts to decrease the rise in fraudulent cards, cybersecurity experts are urging individuals not to share images of their vaccination cards online. For those who want to still share their cards, experts suggest editing out not only your personal information but the batch number of your dose. For those who would like to post on social media but do not want to share their card, stickers and other graphics are also being shared to encourage others to be vaccinated without risking public safety and threats of fake cards.