Feds Shut Down Website Peddling Phony COVID-19 Vaccine
As coronavirus scams multiply, DOJ issues tips to recognize and avoid them
En español | Federal officials announced the shutdown of a newly created website peddling a “free” vaccine for COVID-19 for a $4.95 shipping fee. The website, created in early March, used a photo of Anthony Fauci, M.D., a prominent federal health official working overtime to fight the pandemic, to imply the U.S. government backed the effort.
No vaccine now exists for COVID-19. The federal case — the first of its kind since the outbreak erupted — was filed in Austin, Texas, after an FBI official there on March 19 visited the website offering the bogus vaccine. The website address, now disabled, was coronavirusmedicalkit.com.
Abuse your credit cards, steal your identity
The website sought credit card and personal information to make fraudulent purchases and commit identity theft, authorities said. In announcing Sunday that a federal judge in Texas issued an order to immediately shutter the site, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released important tips to help the public guard against known and emerging scams triggered by the coronavirus.
In this case, the phony vaccine was said to be from the World Health Organization (WHO), which does not have one. The vaccine was said to cost nothing, but potential recipients were told to pay a $4.95 shipping fee using a credit card.
Feds blast alleged fraudster as ‘despicable'
People should report suspected fraud schemes tied to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721, or emailing email@example.com.
One DOJ official in the case assailed the defendant as among “the most despicable of scammers.” An FBI official involved in what is an ongoing investigation said the bureau has made it a priority to protect communities from “reprehensible fraud schemes” meant to spread misinformation and create confusion during the pandemic.
The defendant in the case is “John Doe, also known as coronavirusmedicalkit.com."
Namecheap located in Phoenix, is the domain's registrar and as such allowed potential victims to access the site. DOJ officials on March 19 informed Namecheap of the fraudulent statements on the virus website, court documents show. As of Monday morning, the website was no longer accessible to the public.
"Namecheap is actively working with authorities to both proactively prevent, and take down any fraudulent or abusive domains or websites related to COVID-19 or the Coronavirus.”
Since 1984, Fauci has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He often appears at White House briefings and in interviews, making him a recognizable name and face in the federal response to the pandemic.
The news Sunday came after Attorney General William Barr announced last week that fighting coronavirus scams is now a top priority for federal prosecutors across the U.S.
Feds urge vigilance against coronavirus scams
The Department of Justice urges Americans to guard against known and emerging scams tied 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 the legitimate “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 antimalware and antivirus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
- Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure or treatment. 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 firm offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid firms whose customers have complained about not receiving what was ordered.
- Research charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations. An organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” or has reputable-looking seals or logos.
- Be wary of any business, charity or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer or 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 firm’s products or services can help stop the virus. Carefully research the investment beforehand and visit the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website to learn more about avoiding investment fraud.
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.