With many wondering whether or not COVID vaccine cards will be required as proof of vaccination now that masking guidelines have changed, concerns over fake vaccine cards are rising.
Searches for the fraudulent cards have risen since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its masking guidance to allow fully vaccinated individuals to go maskless in most settings. Illinois and Chicago also adjusted their mandates accordingly this week.
Searches for "fake vaccine card" spiked last week in Illinois following the CDC's announcement and again soared following Illinois' masking update, according to Google Trends.
Last week, police said that a 21-year-old CVS employee in New York was arrested after allegedly pilfering eight pre-filled vaccination cards, just missing the names of the people who would potentially use them, along with 54 blank ones that were found in his car as well.
"They were taken within the last couple of days, with the intent to share them with family members and friends, so that they could go into venues and possibly even use them at schools," said Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.
At the same time, the FBI in Chicago issued a warning to Illinois residents "about the dangers involved in the illegal sale of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards and other COVID-19 scams."
"Vaccination cards are intended to provide recipients of the coronavirus vaccine with important information regarding the type of vaccine they received and their dates of inoculation," the alert stated. "The creation, purchase, or sale of vaccine cards by individuals is illegal and endangers public safety."
This follows earlier warnings from the FBI and other organizations, which warned of fake vaccine cards being sold, including in Illinois.
Listings for fraudulent cards have appeared on major online platforms such as Twitter, Instagram,and eBay. The blank cards are also being sold on sites like Craigslist and OfferUp, and NBC 5 has found multiple postings in the Chicago area.
The FBI issued a special alert last month warning the public of making or buying fake vaccination cards.
"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 warning from the FBI said. "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 FBI has also advised against posting photos of your vaccine card on social media, saying personal information from that card could be lifted by scammers trying to make fake cards and commit fraud.
Steve Bernas, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago says these crimes are some of the worst he’s seen in his 33-year career.
These fraudulent cards could create a security breach at airports.
“If you want to try to get on an airplane and you feel everyone is vaccinated and this person isn’t vaccinated; carrying around a fake card, it’s not good for America or anyone,” said Bernas.
Bernas adds that anyone who sees these postings should report them using the “Scam Tracker” with the BBB.
Those who purchase and use these cards could face hefty fines because using fake government identification is a crime, according to the FBI's Chicago division.
Chicago's top public health official said additional guidance surrounding proof of vaccination is expected this summer, particularly as major festivals and events, like Lollapalooza, resume at full capacity with a vaccination or negative test requirement.
"Certainly people have their cards, but that card is linked to a registry sort of at the state level," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. "And the state and other states have been working around ways where people want to request their vaccine status themselves to be able to have some proof of that available electronically. And that's just technology that is evolving, so I don't want to speak to it. For sure, one way or another, we'll have some updated information."
The FBI in Chicago asked that "anyone with information regarding the fraudulent creation or sale of COVID-19 vaccination cards" file a report by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to tips.fbi.gov.