SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — From concerts to college campuses, from the office to the bar, proof of vaccination is quickly becoming a common requirement. Now some are concerned that fake vaccine cards could become the new fake ID.
So what are the legal implications of buying or selling a fake vaccine card?
"It kind of depends on the situation," said FBI Special Agent Sean Regan. "Utilizing an official insignia of a federal agency would be a federal violation."
The unauthorized use of the CDC logo is a federal offense. So if you were to forge a blank CDC or HHS document, or create a fake document with the logos, it could be punishable with a fine and up to five years in prison - and that's just the federal charges.
"If you're using the internet, for example," Regan said, "there could be various violations both at the state and at the federal level,"
CBS13 found blank cards for sale on social media -- and even purchased some on Amazon in an effort to identify a scam. The ad displayed a yellow international vaccine card but arrived with what appeared to be real blank COVID vaccine cards too.
We're turning the cards over to authorities.
A Napa doctor was the first to face federal fraud prosecution in an alleged fake vaccine card scheme. A San Joaquin County bar owner faced similar charges, in addition to charges for falsifying medical records and identity theft.
"Law enforcement officials tend to go after the bigger fish," said UC Hastings Law Professor John Myers.
Much like drug dealers, Myers says the feds generally focus on the people accused of selling the cards.
But he stresses that when sellers get caught, their records may reveal the buyers, too. And using a fake vaccine card is also a crime: It's fraud.
"You could be violating federal, state and local laws," Myers said.
For instance, several people have been arrested for using fake vaccine cards in Hawaii, including a woman who got caught because she misspelled Moderna.
"I think it's important for citizens of California to realize the same thing could happen here," Myers said.
However, in order to be punished, you have to get caught and a photo of the easy-to-forge paper card is all that's generally required to verify your vaccine.
While schools can do random audits and do have "read-only access to the California Immunization Registry (CAIR)," private businesses do not.
The CDPH vaccine record guidelines allow for various options to prove proof of vaccination:
- COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card (issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control & Prevention or WHO Yellow Card1) which includes name of person vaccinated, type of vaccine provided and date doses administered); OR
- A photo of a vaccination card as a separate document; OR
- A photo of the client's vaccine card stored on a phone or electronic device; OR
- Documentation of vaccination from a healthcare provider; OR
- Digital record that includes a QR code that when scanned by a SMART Health Card reader displays to the reader client name, date of birth, vaccine dates and vaccine type; OR
- Documentation of vaccination from other contracted employers who follow these vaccination records guidelines and standard.
There is no national vaccine database, for businesses and others, to reference. And as CBS13 revealed, the state database is flawed. Many who are actually vaccinated are unable to find their records due to typos or missing information from the vaccine provider.
When it comes to universities, Myers believes many who get caught will get caught through word of mouth. He also warns that, criminal penalties aside, "if you go into a classroom... or a bar with a fake vaccine card and you infect somebody, they can sue you." He adds, if that person dies from COVID, their family could also potentially sue for wrongful death.
Additionally, he said, that businesses and universities would have the legal authority to fire or expel people who are caught with fake vaccine cards.
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