It just got more expensive to be an anti-vaxxer.
In the days before President Joe Biden announced all private sector businesses with more than 100 employees would have to require their employees be fully vaccinated, fake vaccine cards cost approximately $100. The day after his announcement last week, fake vaccine card prices doubled to $200.
The number of sellers peddling bogus cards also went up, spiking from 1,000 to more than 10,000 sellers, security researchers at Israeli security firm Check Point, which was founded by veterans of an elite cyber unit of Israel’s military intelligence directorate, tell The Daily Beast.
The number of subscribers in Telegram groups oriented towards fake vaccine cards has grown by a multiple of five, the researchers, who monitor the darknet and deep web, said.
”It’s clear to us they’re using current events to galvanize the market,” researchers at Check Point found, said spokesperson Ekram Ahmed, who added that the researchers are primarily observing the uptick in scams for U.S. and European vaccination cards.
Anti-vaxxers have long been working to skirt around societal pressures to get the jab and scammers have been meeting them where they are—counterfeit cards have been found on Telegram, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, and other marketplaces for months.
It’s illegal to order fake vaccine cards, and those who opt for phony cards that use an official government seal are committing a felony and could be sent to prison for five years, according to an alert from the FBI.
But that hasn’t stopped individuals intent on trying to dodge the shot. Biden’s announcement has caused a boom in the fake card market, researchers say.
In the early months of this year, those interested in buying fake vaccine cards tended to be dealers and distributors who would later sell their fraudulent cards to unvaccinated customers seeking to fly under the radar, according to Check Point research. But as more vaccines and public health policies have rolled out around the country, the conversation surrounding fake vaccine cards has shifted into a direct-to-consumer model, with consumers buying straight from sellers on Telegram, Ahmed said.
Similarly, after Russian cities began announcing vaccine mandates, fraudsters looking to make a buck off of fake vaccine card sales and distribution jumped into gear, according to researchers at security firm Flashpoint that monitor criminal forums on the deep web.
Even on a smaller scale, when some cities around the U.S. have announced vaccine mandates or testing requirements in order for people to frequent certain businesses or to attend school in certain school districts, researchers have seen sales of the fake records tick up.
”Anytime a major city such as New York or San Francisco makes a vaccine mandate or showing proof of vaccination there’s been a spike in the number of sellers” of fake vaccine cards, Ahmed said.
The groundswell of interest in faking proof of vaccination in the U.S. has been lucrative for months now. Just last month a shipment of fake vaccine cards arrived in the U.S. from Shenzhen, China, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection alert. CBP officers have been seizing bogus vaccine cards—some of which are riddled with typos—around the country from Chicago to Anchorage to Memphis, where authorities seize hundreds of fake vaccination cards every day.
A CBP official told The Daily Beast the agency “has seized thousands and thousands of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards in international mail and express consignment shipments at ports of entry throughout the United States” in just the past couple of months.
“The market for fake vaccine cards established itself in early 2021 alongside the official rollout of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines,” a spokesperson for Flashpoint told The Daily Beast. “The initial discussions across threat actor communities were not high in volume, but we did observe an uptick in conversations starting in July.”
However, unlike the data released by Check Point, the spokesman for Flashpoint said their researchers haven’t seen a marked uptick in the days since Biden’s mandate, according to findings the firm hasn’t yet made public.
Although the underground market of grifters and people willfully throwing their fellow citizens under the bus and looking to trick others into thinking they’re fully vaccinated is going strong, most Americans are actually in favor of Biden’s vaccine mandate—according to a joint Politico and Morning Consult poll published Monday, 58 percent of respondents said they support a rule requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate employees get vaccinated or show proof of testing; 51 percent of respondents in a CNN poll said they support a vaccine mandate for adults in the U.S.
Approximately 53 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated, while a little over 63 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Department of Justice has been working to tackle fake vaccine card distributors for months, with several new busts in recent weeks.
On Aug. 17, the DOJ announced the arrest of a licensed pharmacist in Chicago, who was charged for allegedly selling fake vaccine cards for just $10 a pop, according to court documents.
“To put such a small price on the safety of our nation is not only an insult to those who are doing their part in the fight to stop COVID-19, but a federal crime with serious consequences,” Special Agent in Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office said of the arrest in a press release.
On Aug. 31, a New Jersey woman, Jasmine Clifford, who went by the handle “AntiVaxMomma” on Instagram, was charged as part of a conspiracy to sell fake CDC vaccination cards for $200 apiece, according to a press release from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr..
For $250, clients could get their information entered into the New York State Immunization Information System, which feeds information into New York’s digital vaccine pass, according to the district attorney’s announcement.
Several Vermont state troopers are also under FBI investigation for allegedly running a scheme making fake vaccination cards, according to a September announcement from Vermont State Police.
“If these allegations are proved to be true, it is reprehensible that state troopers would manipulate vaccination cards in the midst of a pandemic, when being vaccinated is one of the most important steps anyone can take to keep their community safe from COVID-19,” Col. Matthew T. Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police, said in a statement.