Mark Pestronk
Mark Pestronk

Q: A longtime, high-end leisure client of one of my agency's travel advisors confided to the advisor that he and his wife were planning to use fake Covid vaccination cards to be able to travel to Italy, which requires proof of vaccinations. I'm sure that it is illegal for the client to use fake cards, but is it also illegal for my agency's advisor to arrange their travel now that the advisor knows what the client is planning to do? If so, what could happen to the advisor and to our agency? Do we have a duty to report the illegality to any supplier or government authority?

A: Leaving aside the question of whether it would be immoral to continue to do business with this reckless and despicable client, let me address the legalities. Your advisor cannot legally aid the client in arranging the trip, and if she does so, she could be prosecuted, as well.

As you know, the Covid vaccine card has the official seals of both the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC. Federal law states: "Whoever fraudulently or wrongfully affixes or impresses the seal of any department or agency of the United States, to or upon any certificate, instrument, commission, document or paper or with knowledge of its fraudulent character, with wrongful or fraudulent intent, uses, buys, procures, sells or transfers to another any such certificate, instrument, commission, document or paper, to which or upon which said seal has been so fraudulently affixed or impressed, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."

So, your client could face federal prosecution and be sentenced to prison merely for using the fake certificate that someone printed. It is also a federal crime to aid and abet the commission of a federal crime (likewise punishable by up to five years in prison), and your advisor would be doing just that if she made travel arrangements for the client at this point.

Your advisor should definitely refuse to do business with this fraudster. As to whether you have a duty to report the intended crime to a supplier or government agency, the answer is more complicated.

Under Italy's rules, the first air carrier on the Italy ticket would have a duty to check the Covid card. If your agency holds an ARC appointment, it is legally the agent of the airline under the standard ARC agreement.

As the carrier's agent, your agency has a fiduciary duty to inform the airline about matters that the airline should know about, including the client's intention to commit fraud. If you don't, you could be liable to the airline for any loss, such as the cost of returning the passengers back to the U.S. if Italy orders them to be deported after they land. You could also very well lose your right to ticket on that airline.

On the other hand, you have no legal duty to report the intended fraud to any government agency. 

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