Travellers are confessing to using fake vaccine cards to their travel advisers
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By Natalie B. Compton
A travel adviser, once known as a travel agent, can easily become a client's confidant over years of trip planning.
"You have no idea," US travel adviser and practising attorney Robert Merlin said of the intimate details clients share with him.
In between the "I think my wife is leaving me" texts to mentions of rehab and fertility treatments, Merlin received a new kind of confession: A prospective client wanted to use a fake vaccination card to travel.
After Merlin had explained to the potential client that she would need a vaccination card to visit certain destinations abroad, she told him, "that won't be hard to get." The client was a hospital worker who said she had no intention of getting vaccinated, Merlin said.
Merlin told the woman that using a fake vaccination card was a crime - one he would not help her commit.
"I'm not willing to lose my job or career for somebody's vacation," Merlin said.
Travellers using fake vaccination cards have made headlines since vaccinations ramped up around the world, from the woman in Hawaii with Moderna misspelled on her card to two travellers who tried to enter Canada with fakes.
Most travel advisers The Washington Post contacted for this story said they haven't had clients tell them they want to use or are using, fake vaccination cards to travel. But Merlin isn't the only one who has.
The Ocean Reef Club travel adviser Stephanie Fisher said she has had three people ask her about using fake vaccination cards. She declined to book their trips.
"It's not something I'm willing to touch," Fisher said.
Instead of being shy about the admission, Fisher said, the prospective clients have seemed proud. "There's a weird glee about trying to find a way to short-circuit the system," she said.
One travel adviser at Ovation Travel Group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her clients' privacy, said multiple clients told her they are buying fake cards or borrowing legitimate cards from friends or family members.
They have used them to go to establishments such as restaurants and beach clubs, she said, but they are too worried about using them for international travel. The adviser said she tells clients in writing that she can't be involved in their trip planning after such admissions.
"It definitely puts me in an uncomfortable position," the adviser said.
Mina Agnos, president of the travel services company Travelive, has had a client tell her that she had been using a fake vaccination card for her domestic business trips. The client was considering using it to go abroad and wanted to know the legal consequences of inputting a fake card into VeriFly, an app used by airlines to confirm a traveller's vaccination status.
Agnos says it's common to hear of people getting fake cards in South Florida, where she splits her time between Athens. Her client told her it was easy to get one and planned on getting another.
"My response was 'I don't think that's something that's advisable,'" Agnos said. "There are so many legal ramifications." She told the woman there were other destinations she could visit without needing to be vaccinated in the first place.
Clients aren't always as clear with their admissions.
Raoul Fokke, an Amsterdam-based travel adviser for Act of Travel, was meeting with a prospective client in person to get a better sense of his interests and travel style. The Dutch traveller, who wanted to take a trip either to Dubai, Portugal or Italy, told Fokke that while he didn't want to get vaccinated, he had someone who could arrange documents to bypass travel restrictions.
It didn't register to him right away what the client wanted to do, Fokke said. The meeting ended, and Fokke continued brainstorming the man's trip options. A few emails later, his client asked about the legal ramifications for getting caught using fake documents. Fokke told him he couldn't arrange travel for him.
While the man was understanding about the reaction, Fokke said, he decided to pursue another adviser for his travel needs.
Not all clients take their business elsewhere after a travel adviser refuses to book their trip.
Juliana Mulholland, who plans travel for wealthy clients, sees herself as more of a travel fixer than a travel adviser, and she has a reputation for making the impossible happen. Her clients tend to get what they want.
"No one says no to these people," said Mulholland, a former lawyer.
But earlier this year, she did have to say no to a client who asked Mulholland if she could get her a fake vaccination card.
"It was out of the question from the get-go," she said.
The client didn't push back and dropped the subject. Mulholland said she reminded her that not being immunized would keep interfering with her travel, and the client ended up getting vaccinated.