Fake Your COVID Vaccine Card In NY? That Could Come With A Year In Jail

Originally published in Gothamist on June 11, 2021.

In the coming months, showing proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will become commonplace before going into a bar, getting on a flight, or going back to school or the office. To deter people who are vaccine-averse and might be tempted to flash fake credentials, New York lawmakers passed a bill Thursday criminalizing the falsification of vaccine records under state law.

“We want to make sure people go out and get vaccinated so we can hopefully reach herd immunity and put this [pandemic] behind us,” said State Senator Anna Kaplan (D.-Long Island), who introduced the bill in her chamber. “These vaccine cards really mean something, and we want to make sure we deter anyone who is thinking about putting fake cards out there.”

Following early reports of people selling fake vaccine cards, the FBI issued a warning in late March pointing out that the unauthorized use of an official government seal is a federal crime. COVID-19 vaccine cards carry the seal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there’s no such seal on the Excelsior Pass, the digital vaccine passport created by New York State. The bill now heads to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature.

The state bill clarifies that falsifying a digital record of a COVID-19 vaccine constitutes computer tampering in the third degree, a class E felony that’s punishable by up to four years in prison. Make a fake paper card? That would be covered under the state’s forgery law, a class A misdemeanor. That crime could come with up to a year of jail time.

Blank vaccine cards have popped up for sale on Amazon, Etsy, and the encrypted messaging service Telegram, among other websites. Amazon already banned these fake IDs, but some vendors are apparently falling through the cracks.

In May, a 21-year-old CVS employee on Long Island, Zachary Honig, was arrested after he was found with a stack of 62 vaccine cards in his car. Eight were filled out with only the “name” section left out, while the others were blank. Honig reportedly told police he planned to share them with family members and friends.

Honig was charged with several counts, including criminal possession of a “forged instrument.” The new bill would eliminate any doubt that a falsified COVID-19 card falls into that category.

“We just wanted to make sure people understand that these CDC cards are really important and stress for everyone that it’s illegal to tamper with or make them,” Kaplan said.