NEW YORK (AP) — A New Jersey woman calling herself the AntiVaxMomma on Instagram sold several hundred fake COVID-19 vaccination cards at $200 a pop to New York City-area jab dodgers, including people working in hospitals and nursing homes, prosecutors said Tuesday.
For an extra $250, a second scammer would then enter a bogus card buyer's name into a New York state vaccination database, which feeds systems used to verify vaccine status at places they're required, such as concerts and sporting events, prosecutors said.
Jasmine Clifford, of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, was charged Tuesday with offering a false instrument, criminal possession of a forged instrument and conspiracy. Authorities say she sold about 250 fake vaccine cards in recent months.
Clifford's alleged co-conspirator, Nadayza Barkley, of Bellport, Long Island, did not enter a plea an an arraignment Tuesday morning in Manhattan criminal court on charges of offering a false instrument and conspiracy.
Prosecutors say Barkley entered at least 10 names into the state's vaccine database while working at a Patchogue medical clinic and received payments for her work from Clifford through the services Zelle and CashApp.
Online court records did not list lawyers for Clifford or Barkley who could comment.
Thirteen alleged card purchasers were also charged, including a man who has been accused of paying to be entered in the database. Actual COVID-19 vaccines are available free of charge.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. called on Facebook, which owns Instagram, and other tech companies to crack down on vaccine card fraudsters, saying in a statement "the stakes are too high to tackle fake vaccination cards with whack-a-mole prosecutions.”
Facebook said that it prohibits anyone from buying or selling COVID-19 vaccine cards and that it removed Clifford’s account in early August for breaking its rules.
“We will review any other accounts that might be doing the same thing,” the company said in a written statement. "We appreciate the DA’s work on this matter and will remove this content whenever we find it.”
According to prosecutors, Clifford, a self-described online entrepreneur, started hawking forged Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards through her AntiVaxMomma Instagram account in May.
A New York state police investigator who became aware of the scam a few weeks later tested it by contacting Clifford to order a fake card and to be added to the state vaccine database, prosecutors said.
In July, the investigator said in court papers, he received a package containing a CDC COVID-19 vaccination card marked with the name and date of birth he provided and a cellphone screenshot showing that the information he provided had also been added to the state database.
The proliferation of fake vaccine cards is a growing concern as more places require proof of vaccination to work, eat in restaurants, and participate in day-to-day activities like going to the gym or seeing a movie. In New York City, such a mandate is already in effect, with enforcement set to begin Sept. 13.
All public school teachers and other staffers in the city are required to get their first vaccinate dose by Sept. 27, while the state has said it is requiring vaccines for health care workers. Other city employees must get vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.
Colleges and universities requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for students to attend in-person classes have raised concerns about the easy availability of fraudulent vaccine cards through online sellers.
In May, the owner of a Northern California bar was arrested after authorities say he sold made-to-order fake COVID-19 vaccination cards for $20 each.
In June, a naturopathic physician in Northern California was arrested on charges she sold fake COVID-19 treatments and vaccination cards.
This month, after two tourists were arrested for allegedly using fake vaccine cards to travel into Hawaii, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on federal law enforcement agencies to target online sales of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards and start a campaign making clear that forging them could land people in federal prison.
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