A report claims that there is now a booming online market for fake Covid-19 vaccination cards, more particularly available through Telegram.
“Thousands of online sellers are claiming to offer near-perfect copies of the cards at prices that have risen sharply in recent weeks, with some now selling a single card for hundreds of dollars” Kevin Collier writes for NBC.
This comes as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection found reams of fake cards hailing from China. Such was the quantity of false documentation intercepted that the agency has simply stopped trying to keep track. Media reports in the U.S. indicate packages have been seized in various regions, including Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky and even Alaska.
Like in many countries, a vaccination card in the U.S. is simply to certify a person has been vaccinated. “The vaccine card is important because we don’t quite know what the future of travel and socializing publicly, with or without masks, looks like” Baltimore-based Dr Vivek Cherian told CNET. Some cities in the U.S. are requesting proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public places, according to media.
The plight of the anti-vaxxers
It is likely that mostly anti-vaxxers are behind the rise in the amount of fake vaccination cards available online. A 31-year-old woman from New Jersey was recently arrested for selling fake Covid-19 vaccination cards on Instagram. She joins a Chicago pharmacist, arrested by the FBI earlier this year, who was reportedly selling the counterfeit cards on an e-commerce platform.
Following an FBI warning on the illegal nature of the sale of these papers, a lot of social media and commercial sites in the U.S., such as Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Etsy, have joined into the fight against the fake documents and banned their sale.
The popular messaging app Telegram, based out of the UAE, is being pointed at as being a vessel of the sham inoculation certificates. The app, which recently reached half a billion active users across the globe, was not as popular in the U.S. But that is changing, in particular with the American far right, Collier writers. It appears that this political group “has jumped on the anti-vaccination bandwagon, seized control of the wheel, and is driving the vehicle, al-Qaeda-style, straight into oncoming traffic” John Feffer writes in TBS.
According to researchers, there are at least some 10,000 Telegram users which are allegedly into the phoney vaccination certificate business. They claim the price of the cards has doubled from $100 to $200 after U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive orders to increase ‘the number of Americans who would have to get vaccinated to stay employed.’
Interestingly, the fake vaccine certificate sellers on Telegram are also into the bitcoin trade. This is the form of payment most of them are requesting from their clients. Cybersecurity expert Brian Linder told CNBC: “What people don’t realize of course is, God only knows where their identity and their financial information are ending up.”
“Three self-proclaimed vaccination card sellers, contacted by NBC News on Telegram, said that they demanded bitcoin payment for cards. Each asked for more personal information than would be necessary to mail a blank card, like date of birth and telephone number, making a verity of claims. about why they needed such information to “register” a buyer’s information. One said the information would be sent to a doctor, while another said it would go to the CDC. None of the three were willing to explain what such registration actually meant.”
What is certain is that there is trade and one that is leaving one party or the other in a pickle. With counterfeit immunisation documents being illegal in the United States, more and more people are facing arrest and even prosecution by attempting to either sell or purchase these cards.
On the other hand, with the persisting trade tensions between the U.S. and China and the involvement of a messaging app created by a Russian national, the escalation of this particular sham seems like a perfect recipe for another international muddle. One in which ordinary citizens would most likely end up on the losing end, vaccinated or not.