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Can you get in trouble for using a fake vaccine card?

With businesses, employers and institutions beginning to require COVID-19 vaccination, the possibility exists those who aren't vaccinated could turn to fake records.

ATLANTA — With the latest surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Georgia and some other states, a renewed focus has been put on getting people vaccinated.

As part of that drive, some businesses have said they will require people to show proof of vaccination for service, and it's possible some employers will begin to make vaccination a requirement.

That creates the possible temptation, for those who are adamantly opposed to getting the vaccine, of using a fake card. There are no national or state databases to verify COVID-19 vaccination status, so it basically boils down to providing your card or a picture of it if you need to prove you've gotten it. 

RELATED: VERIFY: Can businesses require patrons and employees to be vaccinated?

The card itself is pretty no-frills - someone with the right card stock and a good hand at Photoshop could recreate a COVID vaccination card pretty easily, and in fact there have been reports already of people doing just, for anywhere from $25 to $200 a piece.

Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

So if you buy one and try to use it, what kind of trouble could you get in?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

According to attorney and 11Alive legal analyst Page Pate, using a fake vaccine card can constitute a federal crime - and land you in prison for as many as five years.

Yes, using a card.

"You may be thinking, 'Look, I'm not gonna make the card, I'm just buying it off the internet. I'm gonna use it so my kid can go to school, I can go back to work, I can get into a restaurant or some other public place.' It does not matter," Pate says. "Because the law punishes the person who makes the card, who sells the card, but also anyone who takes that card, knowing it's false, knowing it's a fake, and uses it for almost any other purpose."

Pate points to federal statutes in 18 U.S. Code § 1017, which criminalizes using the official U.S. government logos on "any certificate, instrument, commission, document, or paper... with wrongful or fraudulent intent."

"It can be a federal crime to possess or use any fake vaccination card that contains a symbol of a United States governmental agency," Pate says. "If somebody makes a card like that and uses one of those symbols - it can be the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC - if they put those symbols on a card without proper authorization, then they have committed a federal crime and it carries up to five years in prison."

And it can potentially go even deeper than that - under the state law in many states, you can also be tagged with a felony forgery offense. That can include altering a legitimate card to change its dates or indicate you've had a second shot when you've only had one, according to Pate.

He warns: "Be very careful - buying a fake vaccination card can be a federal felony offense."

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