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IDs Aren't The Only Fake Documents College Students Want — Now It's Vaccine Cards Too

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now, fake IDs aren't rare among college students, you know, to get into bars or nightclubs when you're under 21. But this year, some students have their sights set on a new forged document - fake vaccination cards. Colleges and universities across the country are now requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccines to attend in-person classes, and that has led to a growing market for fake vaccination cards for people who are hesitant or just unwilling to get vaccinated. We're joined now by Roselyn Romero of the Associated Press, who's reported on how students are obtaining these fake vaccination records and what colleges are doing to respond. Welcome.

ROSELYN ROMERO: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: So first, what types of records are schools accepting as even proof of vaccinations?

ROMERO: I should preface this by saying that I myself am a college student. So I go to California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. And I think it's for all of the 23 campuses in the California State University system where students simply have to upload a photo of their vaccination card. So it's all submitted through photos on the students' portal.

CHANG: I'm just curious how you first got the idea to report on a story about fake vaccination cards. You say that you're currently a college student. Did you actually come across some fake vaccination cards or hear some of your classmates talking about trying to get one?

ROMERO: I haven't seen one in person, but before I even started reporting on this story, on my personal Instagram account, someone had followed me. And the username was NHS_vaccinecards (ph). They were selling these vaccine cards. And then when I started, you know, having some more conversations with my peers in college, there were some people who said, yeah, they're actually really easy to obtain. Not only that, but social media has, for example, like the app Snapchat, since your posts are only up for 24 hours, it's very easy to get away unless people screenshot your listing. And so we're seeing people, you know, put on their Instagram or their Snapchat stories, I'm selling vaccine cards for anywhere between $20 to $200 apiece.

CHANG: Two hundred? Wow. And we should note that using a fake vaccination card in order to attend in-person classes at a university or college, that's a federal crime, right?

ROMERO: So the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, as well as the FBI released a statement earlier in March 30 of this year basically stating that if you produce, if you sell, if you use any - even if you just possess a forged vaccine card, it is a federal crime. And you could face possible fines and a maximum of five years in prison.

CHANG: Yeah, I was just going to say, how do they know if they have run into fake vaccination cards? What exactly is the verification process?

ROMERO: So it's - one of the questions that I'm trying to figure out is, well, do these colleges and universities have access to a central database or a state database that has all of the COVID-19 vaccinations on record? And can those universities compare the vaccine cards they're receiving with the data that's already there? And so far, right now, we know that the CDC does not have a national database of COVID-19 vaccines. So we're not really sure what this verification process even looks like with these cards.

CHANG: Wait. So just in terms of verifying, like, there is a lot number on my vaccination card. I'm looking at it right now. Couldn't a college or university just cross-reference whatever lot number they see on a card or a photo of a card that's submitted and cross-reference it to some database to make sure that lot number exists?

ROMERO: So we don't know if these universities and colleges have access to any database for these vaccine lot numbers, but what I did notice among sellers on the dark web, on social media, their listings say we work with a doctor or a health professional who puts in these vaccine lot numbers for customers to make it seem like they are fully vaccinated.

CHANG: So interesting. Roselyn Romero of the Associated Press, thank you very much for joining us today.

ROMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.