The price of fake COVID-19 vaccine cards and the number of vendors selling them have shot up since President Joe Biden announced his vaccine mandate plan last week, according to a global cybersecurity company.
Check Point Software Technologies found that the typical cost of phony vaccine cards bearing the logo of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was $100 on Sept. 2. The day after Biden’s Sept. 9 announcement, they jumped to $200, according to company spokesperson Ekram Ahmed.
The estimated number of sellers also rose from about 1,200 to more than 10,000 during that period, added Ahmed, whose company has been studying the black market for fake vaccine cards.
“That week, something changed,” Ahmed said in an interview with Stateline. “We were looking for a reason why and the only thing we can point to is the Biden White House’s announcement. That is what’s causing the change in the black market.”
Biden’s policy will require employers with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines or have staffers undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. He also is requiring all federal government employees and contractors to be vaccinated, as well as all health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds.
Ahmed said the black market in January mostly stayed on the dark web and was tailored to dealers who could distribute the cards in mass quantities. Over the past nine months, he said, the market has shifted to consumers who are buying the cards on Telegram, a popular instant messaging app that offers users enhanced privacy and encryption. Telegram has 500 million monthly users worldwide.
A new blog post by Check Point notes that since the Biden announcement, the number of Telegram group members in the United States has risen from 30,000 to more than 300,000.
“The growth of the black market for fake vaccination cards has been exponential,” Ahmed said. “Our expectation is that the black market for fake coronavirus vaccination cards will continue to thrive as more policy requiring vaccination proof gets rolled out.”
COVID-19 vaccination cards feature the recipient’s name and birthdate, the vaccine maker, lot number, and the date and place of the shot.
The thriving black market in fake vaccine cards has alarmed law enforcement officials—and prompted some state legislators to act.
In New York, the state legislature has passed a bill that would make it a crime to possess or forge phony COVID-19 vaccine cards or digital passports. In New Jersey, state lawmakers are considering similar legislation.
It’s already a federal crime to buy, use or sell fraudulent documents that bear a federal agency’s seal. Violators face a fine and up to five years in prison.