Facebook, Insta and Telegram big soure of illegal vaccine cards

Social media sites have become a key distribution channel for counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine cards, with Facebook, Instagram and Telegram among the top channels used to peddle the fakes.

A study by the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) and Coalition for a Safer Web (CSW) found hundreds of posts from illicit sellers of the cards on the three sites, with many of the listings remaining active for several days after they were alerted to their existence.

The fakes are intended to closely resemble the authentic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) certificates provided by healthcare practitioners when administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Other investigations have discovered fake cards on sites like Shopify, with the sellers often seeming to target people who subscribe to anti-vaccine ideology.

With no nationwide database for verifying vaccinations in place in the US, paper record cards are currently the only way to tell if an individual has been vaccinated.

That has led to calls for a set of standards for a digital certificate that could be used to allow public access to venues, or to ease international travel.

An example of one Facebook post appears below:

 "Too often, platforms rely on the public to alert them when illegal or dangerous activities appear on their sites. But now, even when they've been alerted, they haven't taken steps to remove them," said Tom Galvin, the executive director of the DCA.

"Selling these cards is a crime. Buying these cards is a crime. If these platforms want our trust, it will take more than a name change. It requires responsible behaviour," he added.

The DCA and CSW reports notes that rogue sellers often imply to prospective purchasers that they have contacts inside legitimate, respected drug stores and the offices of medical professionals.

They also claim they can create cards that can evade law enforcement scrutiny using resources from legitimate businesses.

"This is the fourth report our organizations have done since March of 2020, on the platforms during the COVID crisis – and we showed fake vaccines for sale as well as ads for facemasks of questionable quality for sale. When does it stop?" asked CSW's Eric Feinberg, the lead investigator on this research.

"The misinformation is horrible and needs to stop, but someone should ask the platforms how much money they've made from illegal and/or illicit COVID-19 related commerce? If they've made one dollar, it's one dollar too much."

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