The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Sunday that “it has taken its first action in federal court to combat fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic” via the shutdown of a website offering a cure.
Detailed in the civil complaint filed on Saturday, the operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com,” which claimed to sell vaccine kits for COVID-19, were engaged in a “wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding” the virus crisis.
“Information published on the website claimed to offer consumers access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95, which consumers would pay by entering their credit card information on the website. In fact, there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine,” the DOJ said.
US District Judge Robert Pitman ordered the site to shut down on Saturday, according to his statement. As of Monday morning, a search of the site comes up with a blank webpage with a text that reads: “Sorry… coronavirusmedicalkit.com could not be found.”
Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the DOJ’s Civil Division said the government will be actively monitoring the internet for other COVID-19 fraud-related websites or schemes:
“The Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain,” said Hunt. “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.”
“Attorney General Barr has directed the department to prioritize fraud schemes arising out of the coronavirus emergency,” said US Attorney John F. Bash of the Western District of Texas.
“We therefore moved very quickly to shut down this scam. We hope in the future that responsible web domain registrars will quickly and effectively shut down websites designed to facilitate these scams. My office will continue to be aggressive in targeting these sorts of despicable frauds for the duration of this emergency.”
“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.”
The DOJ provided very few details about the scope of the fraud but said an investigation is ongoing.
The intervention by the DOJ comes after New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a cease-and-desist order to televangelist Jim Bakker, ordering him to stop promoting an alleged cure for the virus.
James has also ordered Alex Jones to stop making misleading claims about virus cure related products offered on Infowars.com.