- Your vaccine card has sensitive personal information, and pictures of the card that you share online might put you at risk of identity theft.
- The card not only contains your name and date of birth, but it also shows when and where you were vaccinated.
- By posting images of this document on social media, you’re sharing sensitive data that may fall in bad hands.
It’s like seeing a light at the end of a tunnel. Almost a year into the pandemic, you have finally received a vaccine against COVID-19. You have every right to celebrate it.
But you need to be careful if you plan on sharing the news online.
Your vaccine card has sensitive personal information, and pictures you post online that feature the card might put you at risk of identity theft.
“Think of it this way — identity theft works like a puzzle, made up of pieces of personal information. You don’t want to give identity thieves the pieces they need to finish the picture,” wrote the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a blog post.
The vaccination card not only has your name and date of birth, but it also shows when and where you were vaccinated. By posting images of this document on social media, you’re sharing sensitive data that may fall in bad hands.
It’s not just COVID-19 vaccine cards
Posting just your full name might not pose a significant risk. But sharing other information, especially your date of birth and the name of the place where you were vaccinated, could be dangerous.
“While it may be tempting for many to share their official COVID vaccination record, there are certainly risks involved. Before posting a photo of your vaccination card on social media, people should understand those risks,” Poorya Sabounchi, PhD, COO of ixlayer, a health testing platform for physicians, told Healthline.
Sabounchi also warned that this problem isn’t exclusive to vaccine cards. There are pitfalls involved with choosing to share any documents containing personal information on social media.
“Some personal documents that can jeopardize your identity and put you at risk if shared online include boarding passes, money (paychecks, credit cards), birth certificate, health insurance, medical records, driver license, and even work emails,” he said.
You’ll lose HIPAA protection
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
Legal experts say that posting your vaccine card online can void this protection.
“The information on the vaccination card is in most cases protected health information subject to HIPAA protection,” said Elizabeth Litten, chief privacy and HIPAA compliance officer at the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP.
“But once it’s shared by the individual via social media, it no longer enjoys that protection and may be used for medical identity theft or as a means of hacking into patient portals,” Litten said.
She added that making public information like your date of birth, address, social security number, and even details about family members (like children’s names and dates of birth) could set you up for identity theft.
“This is a problem in terms of posting any personal or identifying information that can be used to hack into accounts or commit identity theft or fraud,” Litten said.
“For example, posting information about one’s or one’s child’s birthday and year, which are often used in account passwords, may be used in an effort to gain access across online accounts,” she said.
It could interfere with your ability to get second shot
Attorney D. Wade Emmert, a health care partner at Carrington Coleman Sloman & Blumenthal in Dallas, said that with heightened interest in COVID-19 vaccines, your information might be used to create fake vaccine cards, something that could delay or interfere with your ability to get your second shot.
There can also be information attached to a photo file that you’re not aware of sharing, but is very useful for scammers.
“Many photographs you post online also have geotagging data embedded in them,” Emmert said. “Thieves can use that information to determine where you were when the picture was taken.”
However, if you’ve already posted a photo of your vaccine card online, there are actions you can take to secure your information.
“Just because the horse is out of the barn doesn’t mean you should leave the barn door open,” Emmert said. “Remove from your social media accounts any personally identifiable information.”
He added it might also be a good idea to review your privacy settings on your social network accounts and “review the people who are following you to make sure you actually know them.”
Physical documents not ideal for security
Sabounchi said using a physical document to track COVID-19 vaccinations isn’t only dangerous in terms of people’s privacy, but it can also create distribution challenges.
“A piece of paper can easily be misplaced, destroyed, or altered. By using paper vaccination cards, there is no system in place to track the rollout of vaccines effectively, slowing down the process,” he said. “With most vaccines on the market requiring a second dose, individuals will need to schedule a follow-up appointment to become fully inoculated.”
Sabounchi emphasized the need for a digital platform to help move this process along. This platform should have the capability to send out reminders when it’s time for the second dose and assist with the scheduling, he said.
“Large organizations and small communities can ensure they are reopening safely by securely storing individuals’ personal documentation and COVID vaccination records, while also using that information to keep their community safe once reopened,” Sabounchi said.
The bottom line
People excited about receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine are sharing photos of their new vaccine cards online. And along the way, they’re sharing sensitive personal information that may fall in the hands of identity thieves and scammers.
Experts say sharing your full name is unlikely to bring trouble. However, sharing data such as date of birth, where you were vaccinated, and even children’s birthdays can give important clues to scammers and identity thieves.
If you’ve already shared this information online, experts say it’s best to delete the picture, check your privacy settings, and make sure you know the people who are following you.