The United States Department of Justice announced Sunday they have taken their first action in combating fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An enforceable action was filed in Austin against operators of a fraudulent website that claimed to sell a “vaccine kit.”
Attorney General William Barr recently tasked the DOJ with identifying and prosecuting illegal conduct related to the virus.
In court documents filed Saturday, operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” were engaging in wire fraud that sought to capitalize on the fear and confusion surrounding this novel virus.
According to the complaint filed, the website claimed to offer customers access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95. Customers were asked to pay this charge with their credit card on the website.
The DOJ iterates there is no known vaccine for COVID-19 and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary restraining order against operators of the website, requiring that the fraudsters immediately take action to remove public access to that website.
The DOJ recommends that Americans to take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from scams related to COVID-19:
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- 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.”
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
- Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
- 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.