© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vaccination cards are pictured at a rural coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination site in Columbus, New Mexico, U.S., April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Ratje/File Photo
By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – Two women have been charged in an alleged scheme to sell forged COVID-19 vaccination cards through an Instagram account and to enter the names of customers into New York state’s immunization database, the Manhattan district attorney said on Tuesday.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. charged Jasmine Clifford, 31 of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, and Nadayza Barkley, 27, of Bellport, New York, with offering a false instrument, which is a felony, and misdemeanor conspiracy.
Vance also charged 13 hospital, nursing home and medical and nursing school workers with possession of a forged instrument, accusing them of purchasing cards from Clifford. Barkley is accused of entering some of their names in the database.
The case in New York comes as demand for counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards has increased in recent months as more state and local governments, schools and businesses require employees and students to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Vance said social media companies such as Facebook (NASDAQ:), which owns Instagram, needs to prevent fraud from happening on their platforms.
“The stakes are too high to tackle fake vaccination cards with whack-a-mole prosecutions,” he said. “Making, selling, and purchasing forged vaccination cards are serious crimes with serious public safety consequences.”
Vance said Clifford, a self-described entrepreneur with several online businesses, began advertising fake COVID-19 vaccination cards on her Instagram account, @AntiVaxMomma, in May. She sold about 250 cards for $200 a piece on the social media site, Vance said.
For an additional $250 fee, Barkley, who works at a medical clinic in New York, would enter the buyer’s name into the state’s database as having received COVID-19 vaccinations. She fraudulently entered at least 10 individuals into the database, he said.
Attorneys for the women could not immediately be reached for comment.
COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and free of charge.