Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance’s office announced on Tuesday that a woman from New Jersey was charged with selling around 250 fake vaccination cards online, including the sale of forged papers to 13 “public-facing” employees in the New York area who work in medical facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.
The alleged counterfeiter’s Instagram handle might have been a clue for prosecutors. According to the complaint, Jasmine Clifford — who went by the name @AntiVaxMomma online — sold fake vaccination cards for around $200, payable on Cash App or Zelle. For an additional $250, she also allegedly employed a medical-clinic worker named Nadayza Barkley to enter the information of at least ten clients into the state immunization database from Barkley’s workplace in Patchogue, New York. The co-conspirators were caught when an undercover agent purchased a card and had it mailed to an address in Manhattan; another agent paid to have the false proof of vaccination submitted into the database and received a screenshot to show when it had been completed. The scheme was revealed in a widely shared video on TikTok last week.
Clifford and Barkley were both charged with first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and fifth-degree conspiracy, while Clifford was also charged with second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument; if convicted, Clifford faces up to seven years in prison, and Barkley faces four. Clifford has not yet been arrested, while Barkley appeared in court before being released without bail. The 13 public-facing employees were charged with a count of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and could face seven years if convicted.
With vaccine mandates growing increasingly common amid the spread of the Delta variant, fake vaccine cards have risen in popularity for the many Americans who are resistant to the shot and willing to break the law. Earlier this month, customs officials in Alaska seized thousands of the easily counterfeited cards, which were shipped in from China. As President Joe Biden has said, there is “no centralized universal federal vaccinations database” for the free inoculation program, making small-scale efforts relatively easy to execute.
“We will continue to safeguard public health in New York with proactive investigations like these, but the stakes are too high to tackle fake vaccination cards with whack-a-mole prosecutions,” Vance said in a statement on Tuesday. He added that “companies like Facebook” need to “take action to prevent the fraud happening on their platforms.”