Black market for fake COVID vaccine cards growing

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As vaccine mandates spread from entertainment venues to workplaces, there are people trying to find ways around the requirements.

Some legally, and some not.

The black market for fake COVID vaccine cards is growing, and it turns out the cards are relatively easy to get.

U.S. Customs agents in Memphis have seized thousands of fake COVID vaccine cards. The agency said they're not hard to find, typically the shipping documents are full of typos and they're coming from China. But people who want these fake vaccine cards don't need to find a Chinese importer to get them.

"As soon as the idea of a COVID passport or COVID card became available, the bad guys jump on it and start selling it," said Hold Security's Chief Information Security Officer Alex Holden.

We reached out to Holden for help finding the black market for these cards in the deepest corners of the web. Holden said it turns out we didn't need to look that hard.

"Unfortunately they are appearing everywhere, and authorities are trying to combat this, but still more and more sites are appearing out there every day," said Holden.

Holden showed us a list of new websites. Over a month, there was one created every single day. A simple browser search also turned up these websites selling COVID cards between $10 and $150.

"We didn't put much thought into this like we do with drivers licenses or passports, or money," said Holden.

The F.B.I. said buying or creating a fake card with a government seal is a crime. U.S. Marshals arrested a Chicago pharmacist who sold 125 blank COVID cards on Ebay for about $10 each.

"This is about the government wanting to send a message to health care providers, pharmacists, physicians, that if somebody is inclined to take advantage of this public health emergency, they're going to be in the government's crosshairs," said former federal prosecutor Steven Block.

He said the government has a big reason to go after these cases.

"Cards like these are to be kept locked up, they're to be used only by people who are vaccinated," said Block.

Because fake cards put the public's health at risk.

"The vaccine is for your own protection, the card is just a way to display that. If you're not getting vaccinated, it matters little whether you have a card or not," said UW Health Infection Prevention Medical Director Dr. Nasia Safdar.

Safdar said if these fake cards spread like COVID, there's little chance of the pandemic ending.

"If you're attending an event or going to a place where you have proof of vaccination but you cannot trust the data, then it's really worthless at that point," said Safdar.

The Chicago pharmacist faces up to 120 years in prison, 10 years for each count of stealing government property.

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