WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice has accused the operators of “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” of engaging in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit off the “confusion and widespread fear” surrounding the coronavirus – the first federal fraud cause related to the pandemic.
According to a civil complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on Sunday, the DOJ alleges the website was claiming to offer access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus.
Following the DOJ’s filing, U.S. District Judge Robrt Pitman issued a temporary restraining order requiring the website’s registrar to block public access to it.
“At a time when we face such unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 crisis, Americans are understandably desperate to find solutions to keep their families safe and healthy,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office. “Fraudsters who seek to profit from their fear and uncertainty, by selling bogus vaccines or cures, not only steal limited resources from our communities, they pose an even greater danger by spreading misinformation and creating confusion. During this difficult time, protecting our communities from these reprehensible fraud schemes will remain one of the FBI’s highest priorities.”
Going forward, the Department of Justice has offered a number of precautionary measures to protect yourself against coronavirus-related scams:
- Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
- Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if a vaccine becomes available, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
- Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
- Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving any donation. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
- Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
- Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.