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California Man Arrested In Suspected Fake COVID-19 Vaccine Card Operation

A real COVID-19 vaccination record card issued by the Centers for Disease Control.
Bill Clark
CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
A real COVID-19 vaccination record card issued by the Centers for Disease Control.

A California bar owner has been arrested for allegedly selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards in what's believed to be the first thwarted scheme of its kind.

Undercover agents with the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control bought the bogus cards for $20 each during multiple visits to the Old Corner Saloon in Clements, a small town in San Joaquin County.

The agents were told to write their names and birth dates on sticky notes and watched as employees cut the cards, added phony vaccination dates and laminated them, the Associated Press reported.

"On the back where they put the two dates when you were vaccinated, they used two different color pens to make it look like it was two different times," supervising agent Luke Blehm told the AP. "So they went to some effort to make it look authentic."

The owner, Todd Anderson, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with identity theft, forging government documents, falsifying medical records and having a loaded unregistered handgun, San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said in a statement this week.

"It is disheartening to have members in our community show flagrant disregard for public health in the midst of a pandemic. Distributing, falsifying or purchasing fake COVID-19 vaccine cards is against the law and endangers yourself and those around you," Salazar said.

The vaccination card is now a valuable document used in some places to attend events or large venues. The European Union has proposed requiring proof of vaccination for tourists.

In March, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned the public that using fake vaccination cards bearing a government logo is a crime.

Other federal and state authorities in California told the AP that they haven't come across similar forgery operations.

"This is such a new case. We looked for some other guidance from other cases around the country and we haven't been able to find one like this at all," ABC's Blehm said.

But online, counterfeit sellers and instructions on DIY vaccine cards are abound.

NBC News reported last month that forgery how-to's have spread on anti-vaccination forums. Fake vaccination cards are popping up on e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Etsy — where a Vice reporter ordered one with ease.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong last month urged OfferUp to crack down on the bogus vaccine cards being sold in its online marketplace.

Although the cards are easy to fake, the actual vaccination records stored in state databases aren't as easy to hack. One state, New York, has adopted digital vaccine verification using that data, but other states have been slow to embrace proof-of-vaccination mechanisms.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.