Scammers are selling fake vaccine cards. How authorities are responding

By Kathryn Barnes

If you’ve gotten your COVID-19 vaccine, you’ve likely been told to keep your vaccination card safe. Don’t lose it, and take a photo of it in case you do. That card could soon become as important as your driver’s license or passport.

And just like IDs, the illegal market of vaccine cards is here.

Last week, law enforcement arrested a bar owner near Sacramento for selling fake vaccination cards. Todd Anderson is being charged with identity theft, falsifying medical records, and forging government documents. 

“We're seeing these kinds of scams run wild,” says Sheera Frenkel, who covers cybersecurity for the New York Times. “It doesn't really matter if a particular state cracks down on it. If there are people in other parts of the country who are selling these cards online, those who want to run these scams, those who want to participate in these scams are going to find a way to buy fake vaccine cards.”

The cards are very simple and low tech, she says, which helped the vaccination rollout go more quickly and smoothly. But it also means these paper cards are extremely easy to forge, which will cause major hurdles down the road. “Finding a way to somehow authenticate people who have gotten the vaccine and those who haven't is going to be difficult.”

She says anti-vaccine groups are spreading information online about where to buy forged cards and instructions on how to print your own. Three sellers she interviewed told her similar things: “If we don't want to get it, we shouldn't have to get it. And we want to try and help other people who are not interested in getting vaccinated [to] skirt authorities as well.”

So what are authorities doing? Frenkel says if states roll out digital vaccine passports, they won’t rely on the paper CDC cards as proof.

“What they're going to do is ask pharmacies or mass vaccinations sites in your state to give them the evidence that you got vaccinated. So they're basically going to take on verifying for themselves who got vaccinated and who didn't,” she says.

In other words, keep that CDC card safe, but soon, you may need a bit more proof than that.