Amar Shabazz, a 23-year-old Maryland man, is facing federal fraud charges, after prosecutors said he sold fake vaccine cards over social media.
Shabazz is accused of acquiring the cards online through a foreign vendor and offering them to his Facebook friends for $75 a pop. Prosecutors filed a criminal complaint, accusing him of mail fraud and obstruction of justice, the Department of Justice announced Friday.
Investigators said Shabazz first purchased the phony cards in June. Officials alleged he purchased 600 of the forged documents in total, though it’s not clear how many they believe we resold.
If convicted, the 23-year-old could spend up to 20 years behind bars.
Amar Shabazz Sold Fake Vaccine Cards, Feds Say
In a press release issued on Friday, federal prosecutors said they believe Amar Shabazz first acquired the fake vaccine cards in June through a foreign online marketplace. Investigators wrote that Shabazz watched a video titled “Scammers Work to Sell Fake Covid Vaccination Cards Online” just days before he allegedly ordered the phony documents under a fake name. He had them sent to his Owings Mills, Maryland home.
Within weeks, prosecutors claim, the Maryland resident had posted to Facebook: “Covid-19 vaccination card[s], who want[s] one? $75 a pop.”
On Aug. 5, prosecutors said, Shabazz commented on a Facebook video about restaurants and bars requiring proof of vaccination for guests, allegedly writing “I SELL PROOF OF VACCINATION CARDS.”
The call to action was apparently successful, as federal investigators said Shabazz posted five days later that he was “sold out right now” and that there would be “no more vax cards until next week.”
Authorities said the 23-year-old wrote a private message to another user around this time: “Made 300 today. I’m sold out,” Shabazz allegedly said. “Just bought 500 more cards. 60×500 is $30k. I’m gonna be rich.”
Feds Learn of Alleged Scam
By late August, investigators claimed, Shabazz had ordered a new batch of fake vaccination cards. But customs agents seized the shipment at the border, and Shabazz was reportedly notified by the shipping company that his order was delayed by federal agents.
At that time, the press release said, Shabazz began to panic. He allegedly searched “customs inspection packages VACCINATION cards” and watched a video titled “FBI investigating fake vaccination cards.”
Still, the 23-year-old allegedly ordered yet another shipment of fake vaccine cards, though prosecutors said he picked a new alias. He then posted more photos of the phony documents to Facebook, offering them for only $70, federal investigators said.
Authorities said they spoke with individuals outside of Maryland who claimed to have purchased fake cards from Shabazz through the U.S. Postal Service. From there, investigators obtained a search warrant for “a basement used by Shabazz.”
In the basement, prosecutors said they discovered a sort of criminal checklist titled “Things I’m doing when I get out (updated).” The list was reportedly dated from early this year, when Shabazz was incarcerated on child pornography charges. On it, he allegedly wrote that he planned to get two “burner” cell phones (“first burner is for scamming”) and intended to “hire a lawyer and get tips of what not to do when getting money illegally.”
The day after feds executed the search warrant at the basement, authorities said Shabazz attempted to delete his account on the foreign marketplace, as well as his email address.
The 23-year-old was scheduled for an initial court appearance on Friday afternoon. If convicted of the fraud and obstruction charges, he could face 20 years in prison. Still, prosecutors noted, individuals convicted of federal crimes rarely serve the full statutory maximum sentence that corresponds with their offenses.
Covid-19 Fraud on the Rise
Federal prosecutors have alleged several instances of fraud regarding Covid-19 related government programs and documents since the start of the pandemic.
More recently, a Georgia man accused of receiving an ill-gotten Covid relief check reportedly spent almost $60,000 of the money on a Pokemon card.