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Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Cards Put Public Health at Risk

Authorities warn Twitter, Shopify, eBay to stem online sales of sham records

Close up of cropped female hands holding COVID-19 vaccination record card.

Getty Images

En español | Twitter, Shopify and eBay are being taken to task by top U.S. law enforcement officials who say the platforms are being used to sell blank or fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to consumers across the country.

The attorneys general from 41 states, three territories and Washington, D.C., wrote to the CEOs of the three companies on April 1, saying, “The use of your platforms to disseminate the deceptive marketing and sales of fake vaccine cards is a threat to residents of our states."

The letter comes after a blunt warning this week from the FBI, which stated, “If you make or buy a fake COVID-19 vaccination record card…you are breaking the law.”

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The subsequent letter from the bipartisan group of attorneys general asks the CEOs to respond by April 9 with a plan of how they will comply with the officials’ request for immediate action to:

  • Monitor their platforms for ads or links selling blank or fraudulently completed vaccination cards.
  • Promptly take down ads or links that are selling cards.
  • Preserve records and information about the ads and the people who are selling them.

Warning letters sent to CEOs

The letters were sent to Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter; Tobias Lütke, CEO of Shopify; and Jamie Iannone, CEO of eBay.

Only nine state attorneys general did not sign the letter, sent under the auspices of the nonpartisan National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). Those officials are from Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana and Texas.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, a Republican, led the signatories.

People receive legitimate COVID-19 vaccination cards from providers when they get their shots. Those who buy a fake card can have information added to it or add details in themselves, so it appears they have been vaccinated when they have not, NAAG said in a release announcing the news.

Legal violations alleged

"The false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threaten the health of our communities, slow progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and are a violation of the laws of many states,” the letter from the attorneys general states.

Other signers are the attorneys general from Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.

A Shopify official said on Friday that selling vaccine cards violates company policies (Link: Shopify's Acceptable Use Policy) and that since February the firm has been proactively monitoring its platform for the sale of the bogus cards. Violations were swiftly handled, the official said.

"We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the state attorneys general to protect consumers from fraudulent or misleading practices related to COVID-19,” added Vivek Narayanadas, Shopify's vice president of legal and data protection officer.

Twitter has received the letter and intends to respond, according to a spokesperson who said that making reliable, authoritative COVID-19 information easily accessible on the platform “is a priority for us.”

The spokesperson noted that so far during the pandemic, Twitter has removed more than 22,400 Tweets and challenged more than 11.7 million accounts worldwide in line with its COVID-19 misleading information policy.

“We prioritize the removal of high-severity violations that could potentially cause real-world harm,” the spokesperson added.

At eBay, Trina Somera, senior director of communications, said: “We are taking significant measures to block or quickly remove items on our marketplace that make false health claims including vaccine ID cards or similar items that could be used to falsely represent a person has received the vaccine.” 

eBay has removed or blocked 50 million listings in violation of policies related to COVID, including price-gouging and false medical claims as of late last year, Somera said, and is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to monitor for listings concerning COVID vaccines. "We are prohibiting vaccine ID cards or similar items that could be used to falsely represent a person has received the vaccine," she added.

The FBI, in its alert, noted that the unauthorized use of the seal of any U.S. agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a federal crime.

Katherine Skiba covers scams and fraud for AARP. Previously she was a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was a recipient of Harvard University's Nieman Fellowship and is the author of the book Sister in the Band of Brothers: Embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq.

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