COVID is spreading like wildfire – and so are fake covid vaccine cards and related scams. Each week, law enforcement agencies across the state and country put out new warnings about the latest COVID scams. The fraudulent activity ranges from fake tests, to phony vaccination cards, to sham testing sites. Depending on the facts and circumstances, the scams can be prosecuted as a state or federal crime and the punishment could be severe. Here’s a look at the crimes and consequences stemming from COVID scams in Texas and across the country.
What are some common COVID scams?
Some of the most common COVID scams include:
- selling or buying fake vaccination cards online;
- setting up fake testing sites and administering bogus COVID tests;
- selling fake rapid COVID tests online.
In this article, we are going to take a look at three common COVID scams and the potential consequences of each.
Fake Vaccination Cards
The list of venues, businesses, schools, and government agencies requiring proof of COVID vaccine is growing – and so is vaccination card fraud. Rather than sit out or be turned away for being unvaccinated, some people are turning to the Internet or social media to buy fake vaccination cards. What they might not realize is that they are committing a federal crime. Buying, making, or selling phony vaccination cards can land you in big trouble with the law.
What charges are possible for buying or selling fake vaccine records?
The FBI has issued several warnings about Texans buying and selling fake vaccines. People who make, sell or possess a fake vaccination card can face federal charges including:
- Misuse of a Government Seal: Making, selling or possessing a counterfeit vaccination card, which uses the federal seal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is punishable by up to five years in federal prison.
- Federal Mail or Wire Fraud: Using the mail or a computer to commit a crime – such as mailing a fake card or using Venmo to pay for a phony card – is punishable by up to 20 years federal prison.
Fake Testing Sites
As the omicron variant continues to surge, people are scrambling to find testing sites. Scammers are capitalizing on the demand and setting up nefarious pop-up sites offering quick, easy and fast results. The so-called “health care workers” administer a bogus test and walk away with customers’ personal information, including driver’s license number, social security number, credit card number, and medical history. Armed with this information, they can then commit identity theft.
What constitutes identity theft in Texas?
In Texas, a person commits identity theft if he or she obtains, uses, possesses or transfers personal information of another without consent with the intent to harm or defraud.
What is the punishment for identity theft in Texas?
The severity of the charge and potential punishment depends on the number of identifying items found in the defendant’s possession. For example, if a defendant is in possession of:
- 1 to 4 identifying items, they face a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail facility.
- 5 to 9 identifying items, they face a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
- 10 to 49 identifying items, they face a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
- 50 or more identifying items, they face a first-degree felony.
People convicted of identity theft could also face a maximum $10,000. Further, the punishment can be increased if the victim is over 65 years old.
Bogus Rapid COVID Tests
These days, trying to find an at-home rapid COVID test seems like a futile effort. Signs are posted outside pharmacies saying they are out. Store shelves that were once stocked are now empty. It’s no surprise that many people are opting to buy at-home or over-the-counter test kits online. Problem is, many of them are counterfeit – or the websites offering them are fake. Over the past few weeks, government agencies have been warning consumers about the influx of unauthorized or counterfeit rapid COVID tests and are asking people to report scam sellers and bogus tests to the Federal Trade Commission.
What charges can people face for selling a fake product on a website?
Counterfeiting, as well as wire and mail fraud, are possible charges, depending on specific facts and circumstances. Identity theft is also a possibility if the website was used to gather personal information and use it for nefarious purposes.
Examples of Recent Arrests for COVID Scams
- In December 2021, a 23-year-old Maryland man was charged with federal mail fraud and obstruction of justice for allegedly selling fake vaccination cards on social media and then using UPS to mail them to customers. He faces a maximum 20 year sentence on each charge.
- In August 2021, an Air National Guard soldier was charged in federal court in Fort Worth for selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards on social media. The soldier shared videos of himself making and mailing the fake vaccination cards. He also allegedly sold one to an undercover agent for $150. He was charged with illegal possession of government property.
- In January 2021, a Seattle man who claimed to be a biotech expert, was arrested after selling his own COVID-19 vaccine. He was federally charged with introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce after he advertised his “vaccine” for between $400 and $1000.
Facing charges stemming from a COVID scam? Contact Us.
If you or a loved one has been arrested stemming from a COVID scam, it’s imperative to contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. Because this is such a high-profile issue, the government is taking these cases very seriously and may try and make an example out of you. Our team has extensive experience defending state and federal criminal cases and has a proven track record of exceptional results. All of our senior attorneys are former prosecutors and four are Board Certified in criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with a member of our attorney and find out how we can help you.