New York prosecutors on Tuesday charged 15 people in a fake vaccination card conspiracy masterminded by a woman known as “AntiVaxMomma” – a case that highlights the black market for false proofs of inoculation against Covid-19.
Jasmine Clifford, a 31-year-old from New Jersey, is accused of selling approximately 250 forged cards through her Instagram account @AntiVaxMomma, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said in a statement.
Starting in May this year, Clifford – a self-described entrepreneur with several online businesses – allegedly began charging US$200 for the fake cards, prosecutors said.
Clifford also conspired with 27-year-old Nadayza Barkley to fraudulently enter the names of at least 10 individuals into New York state’s database of vaccinated residents, for which they charged an extra US$250 fee, the DA’s office added.
The state’s “Excelsior Pass” initiative provides digital proof of vaccination though a unique QR code that users download on their phone via an app.
Barkley was charged, along with 13 individuals who purchased the cards, all of whom are believed to be essential workers, including in hospitals and nursing homes, according to the prosecutors.
“We need companies like Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) to take action to prevent the fraud happening on their platforms,” said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance.
“Making, selling, and purchasing forged vaccination cards are serious crimes with serious public safety consequences,” he added.
The arrests come as states step up vaccine requirements in attempts to slow the spread of the hyper-contagious Delta variant.
New York is requiring all “public-facing” healthcare workers to get vaccinated from September, and all of the state’s tens of thousands of employees to show proof of vaccination or face weekly tests.
In New York City, people going to indoor venues such as restaurants, gyms and shows must show proof of vaccination – either digital proof or a paper vaccine card.
The US, unlike most European countries, does not have a single, unified app containing the users’ vaccination status but several states have launched their own digital verifications.
Critics say the paper card is extremely easy to forge and open to widespread abuse.
US Customs and Border Protection said on Aug 13 that its officers in Memphis had confiscated more than 3,000 forged cards this year.