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'Incredible spike' in fake vaccination card traffic raises concerns

Aside from potentially spreading COVID and facing a fine, getting a fake vaccine card could lead to identity theft, a security expert says.

TAMPA, Fla — As a growing number of people face vaccine mandates, health workers are concerned about a disturbing trend: A growing number of people are now turning to the internet for fake vaccine cards.

“Last week we saw an incredible spike,” says Brian Linder, an emerging threats expert with Check Point Software.

Linder says they recently spotted a disturbing shift as the sale of fake vaccination cards moved off the dark web and onto more public platforms.

“It is even more accessible to regular consumers than it ever was,” Linder said.

Between August and September, Check Point saw the number of people selling fake vaccine cards explode tenfold. Demand also pushed prices higher, doubling to about $200 a piece.

“The trends online are absolutely very disturbing,” Linder said. “And we figured once the mandate was announced our research a team was on top of those, we knew that they would be an incredible spike in activity. 

"And in fact, I think it even exceeded what we thought would happen.”

“I’ll tell you it’s worrisome,” said Rania Mankarious, a family safety expert.

The trend, says Mankarious, is almost certainly fueled by an increase in vaccine mandates. She also believes it’s likely to accelerate if those same rules are extended to children.

Mankarious predicts a transition away from cards to a more sophisticated tech-based system.

“I am sure that soon enough we are going to see changes in the way we are recording vaccinations and requiring proof of vaccinations,” she said.

“This is some serious stuff,” said Dr. Michael Teng with USF Public Health.

Teng says the fake cards aren’t just unsettling, he says they pose a potential health threat.

“Lying about it is going to potentially make people think that you are safer to be around and if you get COVID, you can give it to people,” he said. “People who are expecting the workplace to be safe, they may let their guard down because they expect to be safe, and it can result in some hospitalizations maybe even some deaths. 

"Even in fully vaccinated people who are medically vulnerable.”

And it isn’t slowing down. Check Point says the activity surrounding fake vaccine cards continues to grow exponentially.

It’s a dangerous gamble, they say. Those who buy or sell a fake COVID-19 vaccination card could face felony charges carrying a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Also, buying a fake vaccine card could lead to identity theft. Providing personal data including your name, date of birth and financial information will almost certainly, says Linder, end up in the wrong hands.

“They are going to take your data, more than likely, and see what it is worth in the darker areas of the internet, and possibly try to sell it for profit. So, they are profiting twice,” Linder said. “They’re making money on you paying them for a fake vaccine card and then they are going to turn around and sell your data.”