Earlier this month, a TikTok user who goes by “TizzyEnt” spotted an Instagram post that caught his attention. A woman with the handle “AntiVaxMomma” was advertising coronavirus vaccine cards with “real serial [numbers]” available to “be mailed to any state.” The price: $200 apiece.
“It made me think this was not real,” TizzyEnt, whose first name is Michael, said in an interview with The Washington Post. He asked that his last name not be used, citing safety concerns.
TizzyEnt, who has more than 2 million TikTok followers, later produced a video laying out what appeared to be a scheme by AntiVaxMomma to sell the fake cards and have them registered in state databases. He also tried to notify law enforcement.
But law enforcement knew about AntiVaxMomma well before TizzyEnt’s video posted. On Tuesday, the Manhattan district attorney announced that the person behind the Instagram account, Jasmine Clifford, 31, of Lyndhurst, N.J., has been charged with selling hundreds of the fake vaccination cards. Some allegedly went to front-line workers, including hospital and nursing home employees.
“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,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., said in a statement Tuesday announcing the charges. He called on social media companies to do their part in preventing the fraud.
The Post was unable to immediately reach Clifford for comment. It is unclear why the New Jersey woman is being charged in Manhattan.
A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, told The Associated Press that buying and selling vaccine cards on the platform is prohibited, and it removed Clifford’s account in August for violating the rules.
“We will review any other accounts that might be doing the same thing,” the company added.
Nadayza Barkley, 27, was also charged in the alleged conspiracy. Prosecutors allege Barkley entered at least 10 people who bought the cards into the New York State Immunization Information System database.
An attorney for Barkley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Clifford and Barkley are now facing charges related to conspiracy and filing false documents. Thirteen people who allegedly bought the cards have also been charged with possession of forged documents.
As coronavirus cases surge, proof of vaccination has in some parts of the country become a common requirement for people to attend large events, travel and, in some cities, enter businesses. In August, New York City began requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms and events, and San Francisco soon followed suit.
As the requirements have increased, so have attempts to circumvent them. In July, a homeopathic doctor in California was the first to be federally charged with selling fake vaccination cards. Last month, U.S. Customs and Border Control in Memphis, Tenn., and Anchorage, Alaska, seized thousands of counterfeit vaccination cards arriving from China.
Within days of the seizures, a Chicago pharmacist was arrested and charged with obtaining authentic vaccination cards and listing them for $10 apiece on eBay.
People have also been caught trying to use sham vaccination cards when traveling. Last week, an Illinois woman attempting to enter Oahu, Hawaii, was arrested for submitting a vaccination card that misspelled “Moderna,” one of the companies that makes coronavirus vaccines. Earlier in the month, a father and son were similarly arrested for allegedly trying to use fake cards to get around Hawaii’s quarantine rules.
New York prosecutors allege that Clifford began advertising forged vaccination cards for $200 on her Instagram account starting in May. For $250 more, Barkley, who worked at a medical clinic in Patchogue, N.Y., would allegedly enter their name into the New York State Immunization Information System. All told, Clifford sold about 250 cards, prosecutors said, and Barkley entered at least 10 names into the database.
Hours after the arrests were announced, TizzyEnt posted a video applauding prosecutors for taking action. Although The New York Times reported that his original TikTok post did not lead investigators to Clifford, he is happy there is attention on the issue.
“It renewed my faith in the system,” he said.