Better Business Bureau Column

As more and more public places begin requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in order to enter, scammers are taking advantage of the news to offer phony “vaccine passports.” Better Business Bureau® (BBB®) cautions consumers to give careful scrutiny to any offers of digital proof of vaccination, and further warns that falsified proof of vaccination is both unethical and potentially unsafe.

Currently, the only universally reliable government proof of COVID-19 vaccination is the paper card consumers receive with their shot, bearing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) logo. Several states have rolled out smartphone apps allowing residents to access their vaccination documents, but Missouri and Illinois are not among them, although Illinois recently introduced a Vax Verify digital portal through the Illinois Department of Public Health website.

“While it’s tempting to find an easy way to carry proof of vaccination with you, safe digital opportunities to do so are still very much a work in progress, and relying on one that falsely claims to be from the government may open you up unnecessarily to identity theft risk,” said Stephanie Garland, BBB Springfield regional director.

Garland added: “If you knowingly buy a falsified vaccination card or other vaccine passport, you are creating a health risk for yourself and others, supporting the work of scammers, and putting your personal information in jeopardy.”

Impersonation or impostor scams, especially by government agencies, are explored in greater detail in the 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report. Scam Tracker received nearly 1,500 reports of such scams last year, with consumers losing a total of more than $454,000.

Scam Tracker also received a report in March 2021 of fake vaccination cards selling for $5 on Facebook Marketplace in Springfield.

Tips to avoid being scammed when seeking a vaccine passport:

•Be skeptical of any vaccine passport app that claims to be from the U.S. federal government. At this time, the federal government has not created a national vaccine passport. Email, calls or text messages that claim the government is requiring such a passport are likely scams.

•Flying or attending an event? You may need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccine to attend an event or board a flight. Be sure to check with your airline, sports team, event venue etc. beforehand to get the most current COVID-19 policy information.

•Don’t buy fraudulent vaccine cards. Don’t support scammers and undermine the vaccine effort by buying a black market vaccine card. Misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated means you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19.

•Research carefully. If you receive an invitation to download a COVID-19 vaccine passport app, be sure to do your research before entering your personal information. Scammers are very creative, so be skeptical of anything that seems too good – or crazy – to be true. Double check any information against official news sources and company websites.

•Guard your government-issued numbers. Never offer your Medicare ID number, Social Security number, health plan information or banking information to anyone you don’t know or trust. Don’t post your vaccine card on social media.

•Think the link may be real? Double check the URL. Scammers often buy official-looking URL domains to use in their cons. If the message claims to be from the government, make sure the URL ends in .gov. When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website or call the source directly.

•Don’t post your vaccine card on social media. Scammers can use your personal information — including your name, your date of birth, and even information about your vaccine dose itself — to steal your identity and/or falsify a vaccine card.

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