A New Jersey woman who used the Instagram handle @AntiVaxMomma was charged in Manhattan on Tuesday with a conspiracy to sell hundreds of fake coronavirus vaccination cards over the social media platform.
The woman, Jasmine Clifford, 31, was charged in Manhattan criminal court with having sold about 250 forged cards over Instagram. She worked with another woman, Nadayza Barkley, 27, who is employed at a medical clinic in Patchogue, N.Y., to fraudulently enter at least 10 people into New York’s immunization database, prosecutors said. Ms. Barkley was also charged in the conspiracy.
Fifteen people were charged in the scheme in all, including 13 people who purchased the cards — some of whom worked in hospitals and nursing homes — and were each charged with a felony.
Ms. Clifford was expected to be charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, and Ms. Barkley was expected to be charged with a felony and a misdemeanor. Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
With only about 52 percent of the country fully vaccinated and a significant minority of Americans skeptical of the vaccines, forged cards are offered up on messaging services like Telegram and WhatsApp, as well as social media platforms like Instagram. Counterfeits have been spotted for sale on Amazon and Etsy.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said this month that its officers in Memphis had seized more than 3,000 forged cards in 2021 so far. Earlier this year, the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to the heads of Twitter, Shopify and eBay asking that they take immediate action to halt the sale of the fake cards on their websites.
Beginning in May, prosecutors said, Ms. Clifford, who described herself online as an entrepreneur and the operator of multiple businesses, began advertising forged vaccination cards through her Instagram account.
She charged $200 for the falsified cards, prosecutors said. For $250 more, Ms. Barkley would enter a customer’s name into New York’s official immunization database, enabling him or her to obtain the state’s Excelsior Pass, a digital certificate of vaccination.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, released a statement that called on Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, to crack down on fraud.
“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,” Mr. Vance said. “Making, selling, and purchasing forged vaccination cards are serious crimes with serious public safety consequences.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A popular TikTok user whose handle is @Tizzyent highlighted Ms. Clifford’s scheme in a viral video this month. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said that the video had not led to the charges against Ms. Clifford and the others, and court documents indicated that Ms. Clifford had been under investigation since June.
The charges against Ms. Clifford and her collaborators underscore a black-market industry for counterfeit vaccination cards that has come roaring into existence this year.
Earlier this month, New York City announced that it would begin to require that workers and customers at indoor restaurants, gyms and performances have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.