U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized fake vaccine cards shipped from China to Tennessee last week. The shipment was disguised as paper greeting cards and upon reading the description in the shipment manifest, customs and border patrol officers "already knew what it was," the agency said in a statement.
The shipment was on route to the central business district of New Orleans but was intercepted at at the port of Memphis. The agency said it was the 15th such shipment that night and inside were "51 low quality, counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards."
The cards look like real vaccine verification cards with blanks for name, birthdate, vaccine brand and other information, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and prevention logo. However, the cards had typos, unfinished words and some Spanish words that were misspelled, the agency said.
The officers also knew the shipment was counterfeit because it was imported by a non-CDC or medical entity. "This was not the first time they had seen this shipper," the agency said. Such shipments are described as "Paper Greeting Cards/Use For-Greeting Card," or "PAPER PAPER CARD" and they are always from China.
The fake vaccine cards come in packs of 20, 51 and 100 and there are never any attempts to conceal them, the agency said. Memphis isn't the only place these counterfeits have been intercepted, however, officers in the city have seized 121 of these shipments, totaling 3,017 of these vaccination cards.
The contraband are all over the United States, the agency said. Selling, buying or using counterfeit COVID-19 cards is a crime, the FBI says.
It can be categorized as the unauthorized use of an official government agency seal and violators could face a fine and up to five years in prison.
"These vaccinations are free and available everywhere," Michael Neipert, area port director of Memphis, said in a statement. "If you do not wish to receive a vaccine, that is your decision. But don't order a counterfeit, waste my officer's time, break the law, and misrepresent yourself."
Neipert said ordering a fake vaccine card uses officers' time "as they also seize fentanyl and methamphetamines."
Last month, a California-licensed doctor was arrested for allegedly planning to falsify COVID-19 vaccination cards by making it appear customers had received a Moderna vaccine. Juli A. Mazi of Napa, California, also planned to sell homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets.
According to a complaint, instead of administering vaccines to patients, Mazi allegedly gave them the pellets, which purportedly had small amounts of COVID-19, claiming they would create an antibody response in the immune system and confer immunity. She gave patients vaccine cards and told them to write down that they received the Moderna vaccine on the date that they ingested the pellets.
The Justice Department said Mazi was "peddling fake treatments" and "preying on fears and spreading misinformation about FDA-authorized vaccinations."
She is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to health care matters.
Faculty members at dozens colleges and universities are also concerned about students using fake vaccine cards, the Associated Press reports. Many schools are requiring COVID-19 inoculations, but there are illegal ways to falsify the proof of vaccine cards — one being an Instagram account that sells laminated COVID-19 vaccination cards for $25 each.
Another counterfeit card maker is selling them for $200 each via the encrypted messaging app Telegram.
And there has been an increase in inquiries about these sites and others online, with one Twitter user writing: "My daughter bought 2 fake ID's online for $50 while in college. Shipped from China. Anyone have the link for vaccine cards?"
A Reddit user commented on a thread about fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, writing: "I need one, too, for college. I refuse to be a guinea pig."
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The CDC says "millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history." The agency recommends eligible Americans, age 12 and up, get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can.
On Sunday, New York Senator Chuck Schumer called for a federal crackdown on fake vaccine cards, demanding U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI join forces with Department of Health and Human Services to start a campaign to thwart the counterfeit cards and make clear that they could land people in federal prison, the Associated Press reports.
for more features.