MAINE, Maine — The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center—IC3.gov—has issued a warning about scams involving that small piece of paper that millions of Americans are now carrying around in their wallets—COVID-19 vaccine cards.
The FBI, along with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), reports seeing cases of fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards being sold, as well as people encouraging others to print fake cards at home.
According to NBC News, specific directions showing how to forge vaccination cards have emerged on conspiracy, pro-Trump, and anti-vaccination forums across the internet in recent weeks, as users have exploited a largely makeshift verification system.
According to the FBI, fake vaccination record cards have been advertised on social media websites as well as e-commerce platforms and blogs.
Now, the FBI is issuing a warning, saying that creating and using a fake vaccine card is not only dangerous to the health and safety of yourself and others to represent yourself as vaccinated when you're not, it's also against the law and could lead to fines or jail time.
Specifically, the unauthorized use of an official government agency’s seal, such as the DHHS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a crime and may be punishable under federal law.
The FBI press release says, "The unauthorized use of an official government agency’s seal is a crime and may be punishable under Title 18 United States Code, Section 1017, and other applicable laws."
Vaccination record cards are intended to provide recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine with information about the type of vaccine they received and when they may be able to receive a second dose of the vaccine.
Dr. James Jarvis of Northern Light Health said the intention of the cards is not to be a form of identification, rather, "It was really to be able to show information back-and-forth between a patient in their healthcare providers."
"Every healthcare provider has access to be able to find out what vaccinations people have had, so they are able to use that card to show their physician and say, 'Hey, can you update my medical records to show that I have been vaccinated?'" Jarvis said.
The FBI warning, issued on March 30, is direct: "If you did not receive the vaccine, do not buy fake vaccine cards, do not make your own vaccine cards, and do not fill in blank vaccination record cards with false information."
The FBI leans not only on a criminal deterrent, but adds, "Misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated when entering schools, mass transit, workplaces, gyms, or places of worship, you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19."
While much of the country is in the early stages of deciding how to ask employees, students, and travelers to prove they've been vaccinated, most of those entities that have already established a plan rely on those cards.
Bowdoin College and the University of New England have announced they will require students to be vaccinated come fall. Those with medical or religious exemptions will be permitted to return to campus, but will be required to wear a mask and may not be permitted to participate in all school activities.
At both of those institutions, vaccination cards will be part of the vetting process to ensure students are vaccinated.
Director of Media Relations for Bowdoin College Doug Cook said, "Students will need to present their vaccination card to show they have been fully vaccinated. There is more information online in the general Vaccination FAQ and Vaccination Requirement for Students FAQ web pages."
"We have a student health portal where students keep their medical records up to date, schedule appointments, etc.," Director of Public Relations and Communications for the University of New England Sarag Delage said. "We are asking students to upload a copy of their vaccine card into that system."
The FBI said, "Because individuals may use fake vaccine cards to misrepresent themselves as vaccinated, we strongly encourage businesses, schools, places of worship, and government agencies to follow the CDC guidance and continue to maintain physical distancing and to use personal protective equipment."
The FBI also recommends that folks who do receive the vaccine do not post photos of their vaccine card on social media. "Your personal information could be stolen to commit fraud," the release said.
If you believe you are a victim of an online scam, you should report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.