The production or use of fake coronavirus vaccination cards is now a crime in the state of New York.
A bill was signed into law by New York Governor Kathy Hochul late on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.
It means that anyone involved in faking a COVID vaccination card will have committed a class A misdemeanor for which the punishment is one year in jail or three years probation, coupled with a $1,000 fine.
A new felony computer-tampering charge has also been established for the intentional alteration of material relating to COVID-19 vaccine records.
‘We need to make sure we learn the lessons of the pandemic so we don’t make the same mistakes twice,’ Hochul said in a statement.
‘These new laws will help us improve our response to the pandemic now, crackdown on fraudulent use of vaccination records, and help us better understand the areas of improvement we need to make to our health care system so we can be even more prepared down the road.’
Although fabricating vaccination information was already a federal crime, the move gives another avenue for prosecutions to take place for those using and creating falsified immunization cards.
‘It’s never been more urgent that we protect this process from fraud so that the health and safety of the public isn’t compromised by bad actors using fraudulent vaccination cards or passports,’ State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Long Island), a sponsor of the bill, said.
Kaplan said New York’s current spike in COVID-19 infections means the ability to prosecute those involved in vaccine card fraud is particularly important.
Fraudulent vaccination cards are also a violation of federal law, and the FBI in March released a public service announcement reminding the public that it’s a crime to ‘replicate the unauthorized use of an official government agency’s seal, specifically the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seals.’
Counterfeit cards have for months popped up on Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Facebook, Instagram and other marketplaces.
In April, a bipartisan coalition of 47 state attorneys general sent a letter to the CEOs of Twitter, Shopify and eBay to take down ads or links selling the bogus cards.
Many of the sites have blacklisted keywords related to fake cards, but places to buy the documents are still popping up on messaging apps, chat forums and the dark web.
In July, the Department of Justice announced its first prosecution for fake vaccination proof, where a California naturopathic doctor, Juli Mazi, was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to health care matters.
And on August 17, a Chicago pharmacist, TangTang Zao, was arrested for selling dozens of fake vaccine cards for just $10 a pop.
‘To put such a small price on the safety of our nation is not only an insult to those who are doing their part in the fight to stop COVID-19, but a federal crime with serious consequences,’ said Special Agent in Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office.
Zao allegedly sold blank but authentic CDC vaccination cards and was charged with 12 counts of theft of government property. If convicted, he faces a sentence of 10 years in prison per count.
In August, a New Jersey woman, Jasmine Clifford, who went by @antivaxmomma on Instagram, was charged along with 14 others as part of a scheme that peddled over 250 fake vaccination cards for $200 on Instagram. For an extra $250, co-conspirator Nadayza Barkley, who worked at a New York medical clinic, would allegedly enter the buyer’s name into the state’s digital database for New York’s digital vaccine pass.
Three Vermont state troopers, who have since resigned, are also under FBI investigation for running a fake vaccination card scheme.
Customs and Border Protection says it has seized thousands of fake vaccination cards coming into the US over the past few months.
Also in August, the agency uncovered a shipment from Shenzen, China to Memphis containing fake vaccine cards fraught with typos and misspelled words. CBP said it was the 15th such shipment of the night, though to all different cities, and none were even concealed inside their shipment container. CBP said Memphis alone had made 121 seizures totaling 3,017 of vaccination cards.
Last month, several city employees were accused of using fake cards in order to bypass New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s municipal vaccination mandate.
Offenders include two high-ranking NYPD cops. The pair were stripped of their shields and guns.
There are also allegations that hundreds of firefighters and sanitation workers used forged vaccination cards to evade the vaccine mandate.
At least 50 DSNY workers were suspended for providing fake vaccine records, and FDNY officials are investigating the theft of blank vaccine cards from department vaccination sites.
At the FDNY, a brazen scheme apparently involved the theft of blank cards from headquarters and other sites where agency’s Incident Management Team had been dispensing the shot.
In a memo to firefighters, FDNY warned that forging a vaccine card to prove compliance with the policy may be a felony.
Sanitation workers have allegedly been providing fake vaccination credentials obtained from workers at CVS pharmacies in Staten Island and Brooklyn.
CVS workers reportedly submitted false data to the state that workers were receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, but the scheme blew up because the chain is not actually distributing that brand of vaccine.
De Blasio’s vaccine mandate for all city employees took effect on November 1, and has been met with stiff resistance from some quarters.