Customs and Border Protection officers in Memphis, Tennessee, seized 15 Chinese shipments of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, part of 121 total seizures this year of 3,017 bogus cards, the agency said in a press release Friday.
According to the release, the shipments were headed to the central business district in New Orleans, Louisiana.
"These vaccinations are free and available everywhere," said Michael Neipert, Area Port Director of Memphis. "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.
"CBP Officers at the Area Port of Memphis remain committed to stopping counterfeit smuggling and helping to protect our communities. But just know that when you order a fake vaxx card, you are using my officers time as they also seize fentanyl and methamphetamines."
The FBI recently warned making, distributing, or using a fake vaccine card, or "passport," is a crime because of misusing the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or Department of Health and Human Services shield on the fake document.
The United States can prosecute these cases under Title 18 United States Code, Section 1017, and other applicable laws, and violators could face a fine and up to five years in prison, according to the agency.
"By misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated when entering schools, mass transit, workplaces, gyms, or places of worship, you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19," the FBI said in a March 30 press release. "Because individuals may use fake vaccine cards to misrepresent themselves as vaccinated, we strongly encourage businesses, schools, places of worship, and government agencies to follow CDC guidance and continue to maintain social distancing and use personal protective equipment."
The FBI also advised not posting a photo of a real card online, especially on social media, where it could be stolen and used for fraud.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice arrested a California doctor for a scheme to sell homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets and falsify vaccination cards to make it appear the patient had received the authorized Moderna vaccine, the department said in a July 14 press release.
Juli Mazi, 41, of Napa, California, is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to healthcare matters in the case.
"This defendant allegedly defrauded and endangered the public by preying on fears and spreading misinformation about FDA-authorized vaccinations, while also peddling fake treatments that put people's lives at risk," Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in the release. "Even worse, the defendant allegedly created counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards and instructed her customers to falsely mark that they had received a vaccine, allowing them to circumvent efforts to contain the spread of the disease.
"The Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners are committed to protecting the American people from fraudsters during this national emergency. This commitment is evident in this prosecution as well as in the ongoing work of the Department and our agency partners in the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force established by the Attorney General earlier this year."
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