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COVID-19 vaccination cards are dangerously easy to fake — what you need to know

Covid vaccine tracker
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As the world reopens after a year of pandemic lockdown, many restaurants, workplaces, event venues and even some countries are demanding that individuals show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before they can enter.

There's just one big problem: Fake vaccination certificates are incredibly easy to buy online, or even to make yourself. 

Israeli security firm Check Point reports that fake American and Russian vaccination certificates are being sold online for between $100 and $200. Fake COVID-19 negative test results cost as little as $25, while (likely fake) COVID-19 vaccine sells for about $500 per vial.

But honestly, if you're paying $150 for a fake American vaccination card, you're being ripped off. The official Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card you get when you're vaccinated in the United States is ridiculously easy to fake. 

All you need is a PDF of a blank card, a decent home printer and some medium-weight card stock. Now that we know this, we wouldn't trust any CDC vaccination card being used as a "pass" to get into someplace restricted only to vaccine recipients.

Not hard to find online

Images of the actual CDC card are easy to find online. At least one American state's official website has blank versions of the card, in printer-ready PDF format, ready for download. 

You would still need to know what kind of information to write in (by hand, as on the real cards) to make your fake CDC vaccination card look convincing. 

Yet we found a PDF online that not only has the blank vaccination card, but instructions on how to print it, as well as examples of convincing-sounding vaccine product names, manufacturers, lot numbers and vaccination providers.

"This paperwork will not stand up to digital scrutiny," the instructions caution. "This is only going to allow you to get through a police/military checkpoint at most."

At least one country will let you in

In reality, several places are taking CDC cards. Iceland is now accepting CDC cards as proof of vaccination, meaning any joker who prints and fills out a convincing-looking fake card can travel to the land where the hot springs flow. 

Other countries, including Belize, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Guatemala, Poland, Portugal and Romania are requiring proof of vaccination to enter without having to quarantine, but it's not clear exactly what kind of certificates are required. (Not all these countries are letting in U.S. residents right now.)

And, um, you can get free Krispy Kreme doughnuts if you present a CDC vaccination card.

"What these little cards have the potential to do is to make something like international travel easier by avoiding requirements for quarantine or testing," one infectious-disease specialist told ABC News in a recent report. 

Digital 'vaccine passports' might be safer

Many other countries are waiting for the development of a digital "vaccine passport" that isn't so easy to forge before they'll let people in. The "passport" will likely take the form of a smartphone app that will display a QR code you can present at border checkpoints. 

However, fake digital certificates of negative COVID test results are already being bought and sold. In November, French cops busted a group that was selling fake negative test results to travelers at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. 

The creators of the ready-to-print fake CDC vaccination card PDF promise that "if and when a digital 'passport' system becomes available, we will be reverse-engineering that as well and you will be easily able to find it in the same way that you found this document."

Their reasoning is both admirable from a go-git-'em-America stand-your-ground point of view, and incredibly stupid from a medical perspective.

"We simply believe that no American should be prevented from working, from getting food, from getting access to their on property, or from visiting their loved ones," the card fakers declare.

If there's a significant number of people who refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine, or who can't get it for other reasons, you can bet there will be a demand for fake vaccination certificates.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.