On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for federal law enforcement officials to take action on curtailing the sale of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.
“Amidst the COVID crisis and successful efforts to get a free vaccine out to the masses, there is a new and unfortunate surge of counterfeit COVID vaccination cards being sold online and coming through the mail from overseas, and we have got to get ahead of this,” the Senate’s top Democrat said.
A recent report from The Associated Press details a fake vaccine card “cottage industry” that has sprung up to accommodate people who say they won’t get vaccinated for either personal or religious reasons.
As COVID-19 cases rise nationwide, driven by the highly transmissible delta variant, college officials worry how fake cards might undermine their vaccination mandates.
Schumer urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services to team up to crack down on the sale and production of fake vaccine cards and educate the public the severity of crimes related to them.
“I am urging a federal crackdown on these counterfeit COVID cards," Schumer said in Manhattan on Sunday, while also calling for “an education campaign to make it clear to the American people that this is illegal, you could actually go to prison for buying one of these.”
“To boot,” he added, “there is an easier solution: Get the vaccine.”
Schumer also wants the Justice Department to immediately prioritize cases involving fake vaccine cards and is pushing for Customs and Border Protection to work harder to find counterfeit cards being sent from overseas.
“The Feds have to step up their efforts to ameliorate this problem before it gets worse,” the New York Democrat said. “The Department of Justice must ensure that fraud cases are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Federal agents have already seized thousands of fake vaccine cards this year. Customs and Border Protection officers working in Memphis seized another shipment earlier this week — sent from Shenzhen, China and headed to New Orleans — that contained dozens of fake cards, officials said.
“That’s why we need a federal crackdown and an educational campaign to make clear this is illegal and that there is an even easier solution for those who are looking to buy or sell fake vaccine cards, and it is: To get the vaccine,” Schumer said.
“This is incredible: Some people, rather than get the vaccine, which is free, are paying money for a fake card and risking prosecution because it’s against the law,” he said. “Who could be that dumb?”
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its first federal criminal fraud prosecution involving a fake COVID-19 immunization and vaccination card scheme. Juli A. Mazi, 41, a naturopathic physician in Napa, California, was arrested and charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to health care matters.
Court documents allege she sold fake vaccination cards to customers that appeared to show that they had received Moderna vaccines. In some cases, the documents show Mazi herself filled out the cards, writing her own name, and purported Moderna “lot numbers” for a vaccine she had not in fact administered. For other customers, she provided blank CDC COVID-19 vaccination record cards and told each customer to write that she had administered a Moderna vaccine with a specified lot number.
In March, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services released a statement urging people not to buy, create or sell fabricated vaccine cards. The unauthorized use of the seal of an official government agency is a federal crime that carries a possible fine and a up to five years in prison.
“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 statement reads. “By 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.