Undercover agents with California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control recently arrested a Northern California bar owner for selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.
Acting on an anonymous tip, the plainclothes officers bought cards themselves at the Old Corner Saloon in Clements. The cards, which included the officers’ identifying information jotted down on Post-it notes, as well as fake vaccination dates, were laminated and sold for $20 bucks a pop.
According to the AP, officials called the incident the first of such fraudulent operations that have been foiled across the country.
Authorities say that there are probably many of these illicit operations going on, especially as proof of vaccination is becoming increasingly important for attending large gatherings or traveling. Soon, the European Union may open their borders to vaccinated individuals, adding extra incentive.
Acting on an anonymous tip to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, the four officers scoped out the bar and witnessed eight individuals purchase fake cards during the investigation. They do not know how many have been sold so far.
After arresting the owner of the bar, the officers found 30 blank cards with a laminator and cutting device.
Supervising Agent Luke Blehm said the workers “went to some effort to make it look authentic,” even using different color pens to make it seem like two separate occasions.
“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,” Blehm said.
Indeed, this was the first case of such an operation being done out of a physical location. Blehm noted that the California attorney general’s office recently sent cease and desist warnings to groups selling fraudulent cards on social media and online sales platforms, but never in person.
Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services, said that federal, state, and local agencies in a joint task force are keeping a watchful eye on the situation to see if there are any similar criminal operations out there, or if this was a unique case.
“They actively are looking for stuff like this,” he said. “They’re looking for folks that are doing things like selling vaccines or fraudulent vaccines on the open market, vaccine cards.”
Even though there has only been one report of such a case so far, the FBI and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general issued a warning in late March “to be aware of individuals selling fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards and encouraging others to print fake cards at home.”
That notice also warned of internet-based sales, and urged vaccinated individuals to not post pictures of their vaccine card online, which can be used as a model for forgeries.
The owner of the bar, Todd Anderson, was arrested on suspicion of three felonies, including identity theft, possession of an unregistered firearm, and forging medical documents. He is also charged with falsifying medical records – a misdemeanor.