An Owings Mills man has been charged in federal court with buying fake COVID-19 vaccination cards online and reselling them to customers over YouTube and Instagram.
Amar Alim Shabazz, 23, purchased 600 fake cards online from Asia and had them shipped to his mother’s home in Owings Mills where he lives in the basement, according to criminal complaint affidavit filed in Maryland’s U.S District Court earlier this month.
Shabazz advertised the fake cards online, posting comments in YouTube videos, or on Instagram and Facebook posts, and offering them for between $75 and $100 each, prosecutors allege. After a customer contacted him to buy a fake card, Shabazz collected payment through applications such as Venmo or Cash App, and then mailed them, according to authorities.
When an Instagram user shared a news story with the headline “Bars and restaurants in DC to require guests to show proof of vaccination,” Shabazz posted the comment “I SELL PROOF OF VACCINATION CARDS,” according to the criminal complaint. One Instagram post to Shabazz’s account showed an individual flipping through multiple COVID vaccination cards with the words “Covid19 vaccination card who want one. $75 a pop,” authorities said.
Shabazz is charged with mail fraud and obstruction of justice and faces up to 30 years in prison. A federal public defender who is representing Shabazz did not respond to a request for comment.
COVID-19 vaccination cards are distributed by medical professionals to those who receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which is free.
The arrest comes as local governments and businesses are increasingly requiring employees to receive vaccinations. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that New York will impose a private-sector vaccine mandate at the end of the month, affecting nearly 200,000 businesses.
In August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials seized a shipment of fake cards from Hong Kong at a DHL International facility in Kentucky, the affidavit said. The shipment was addressed to “MAR SHA” at Shabazz’s Owings Mills home and had Shabazz’s number as the contact phone number. The shipment of 500 “paper cards” was actually 503 fraudulent COVID vaccination cards, and DHL’s shipment information reflected that there was a “Clearance event.”
Authorities say Shabazz’s Google account showed he searched for YouTube videos “customs inspection packages VACCINATION card” and that a video called “FBI investigating fake vaccination cards WWLP-22News” had been viewed, followed by another video, “If my parcel is seized by Customs what should i do?”
On the same day, investigators replaced the fraudulent vaccination cards with disposable face masks and sent them to Shabazz’s address. Investigators said later that Shabazz sent a video message to several Instagram users that showed boxes of face masks with the comment: “Look yo. I got masks yo. No [expletive] cards,” according to the affidavit.
Investigators later searched Shabazz’s home and car and collected evidence of the scheme, the affidavit said.
Shabazz was an inmate of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after being sentenced for possession of child pornography, and was released in April 2021, according to the criminal complaint. Shabazz provided his email address, telephone number to DPSCS, which investigators said appears on records for his Instagram, Facebook and Google accounts relating to the scheme.