MEMPHIS, Tenn. - U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers said to date, they have seized more than 121 packages and 3,800 fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards in August from the port of Memphis.
The Border Patrol said its agents recently flagged the latest suspicious shipment coming from Shenzhen, China on its way to the central business district of New Orleans, according to a news release.
Agents said the manifest described the shipment as "PAPER CARD, PAPER." It was the 15th seizure of similar shipments that night. Inside the shipment were 15 low-quality COVID-19 vaccination cards, according to investigators. The cards had blanks for the recipient’s name and birthdate, the vaccine maker, lot number, date and place the shot was given, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logo in the upper right corner.
Investigators pointed out that there were typos, unfinished words and some Spanish verbiage misspelled on the back of the card.
Investigators said they had seen previous deliveries from the same shipper from China.
The FBI has warned that buying, selling, or using a counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination card is a crime, categorized as the unauthorized use of an official government seal. Violators face a fine and up to five years in prison.
"These vaccinations are free and available everywhere," Michael Neipert, area port director of Memphis, said. "If you do not wish to receive a vaccine, that is your decision. But don’t order a counterfeit, waste my officer’s time, break the law, and misrepresent yourself."
Despite the threat of a prison sentence, the problem over fake cards persists.
According to FOX 32, A Chicago pharmacist was charged with allegedly selling dozens of authentic COVID-19 vaccine cards on eBay. Tangtang Zhao, 34, was arrested on Tuesday for selling 125 CDC vaccination cards for $10 each to 11 different buyers on the online bidding platform, according to the Department of Justice.
Colleges and universities are also worried about the growing problem of fake cards. Both faculty and students at dozens of schools interviewed by The Associated Press said they are concerned about how easy it is to get fake vaccine cards.
An Instagram account with the username "vaccinationcards" sold laminated COVID-19 vaccination cards for $25 each. A user on the encrypted messaging app Telegram offered "COVID-19 Vaccine Cards Certificates," for as much as $200 apiece.
According to a tally by The Chronicle of Higher Education, at least 675 colleges and universities now require proof of COVID-19 inoculations. The process to confirm vaccination at many schools can be as simple as uploading a picture of the vaccine card to the student’s portal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.