This past weekend, in an attempt to prevent fraud surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the first court action against a fraudulent COVID-19-centered website. The case was filed in the Western District Court of Texas. The defendant, who remains unnamed, is the owner of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com,” a website claiming to be giving away free coronavirus vaccines. The site was later removed after the DOJ issued a temporary restraining order to prevent further harm.
The DOJ accused the site of “engaging in and facilitating a predatory wire fraud scheme exploiting the current COVID-19 pandemic,” further stating “[t]he purpose of the website is to induce victims to pay Doe and those working in concert with him or her $4.95 for such non-existent kits, and/or to obtain credit card and other personal information from victims for purposes of engaging in fraudulent purchases and identity theft.”
The website claimed to offer vaccine kits provided by the World Health Organization, in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95. Consumers would then be routed to a shipping page with a FedEx logo to enter credit card and personal information which would then be stolen and used to execute fraud. The DOJ also claimed “[t]he website uses a photograph of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, in order to add the imprimatur of the United States government to its claims.”
This court action came after Attorney General William P. Barr took time to warn Americans of the dangers of fraud in a press release last Friday. Barr warned of several different Coronavirus schemes and urged the public to report any suspected fraud to the National Center for Disaster Fraud. He also informed the public that he would be directing all U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus-related fraud schemes
Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division stated, “[t]he Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain. We will use every resource at the government’s disposal to act quickly to shut down these most despicable of scammers, whether they are defrauding consumers, committing identity theft, or delivering malware.”
In a statement released on Sunday, the DOJ expanded on their court action and warned the public that “there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine.”