Website selling fake coronavirus vaccine shut down by Justice Department

The U.S. government is taking swift action on what is sure to be the first of many coronavirus-related scams.

On Sunday, the Justice Department it had taken its first enforcement action in federal court to combat coronavirus-related fraud. The scam came from a website called “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” which was promoting supposed coronavirus vaccination kits from the World Health Organization. The website has since been taken down thanks to a court order. 

These vaccine kits do not exist. There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Experts estimate that a vaccine is 12-18 months away from being developed and made available.

The federal government was able to take such quick action thanks to a statute that “permits federal courts to issue injunctions to prevent harm to potential victims of fraudulent schemes.” 

The Justice Department says the investigation into the website and its operators is ongoing.

Mashable has reached out to the Justice Department to find out more about how it discovered the fraudulent website and to find out how many people were possibly victimized.

According to the DOJ statement, “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” was “engaging in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19.” 

The website was charging a shipping fee of $4.95 for these nonexistent medical kits. The site also included fake testimonials from fictional customers. 

The scam website claimed that upon receiving the vaccine kit, the user needed to mix the “drugs and vaccines” contained in one “pellet” with a second pellet “containing instructions” telling the drugs “which compound to create.” Once water is added to the concoction, the “treatment is ready,” according to the site.

A screenshot of the “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” homepage before it was removed.

A screenshot of the “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” homepage before it was removed.

A temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman required that Namecheap, the the domain’s registrar, block access to the website. The “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” domain name was registered on March 4.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney John F. Bash requested that domain registrars continue to act in order to “quickly and effectively shut down websites designed to facilitate these scams.” Attorney General William Barr has called for the Justice Department to prioritize illegal activity surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear who is behind the website. A WHOIS search for the domain can usually pull up the name and contact information for the registrant. However, “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” is using a WHOIS privacy service which obfuscates the registrants personal details. 

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division in a public statement.  “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.”

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