The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed enforcement action against operators of a fraudulent COVID-19 coronavirus website March 22 after Attorney General William Barr directed the agency to prioritize the “detection, investigation, and prosecution” of illegal pandemic-related conduct.
A civil complaint and court papers filed on March 21 detailed an alleged wire fraud scheme attempting to trick members of the public into entering their credit card information in exchange for access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits. Currently, no COVID-19 vaccine or related distributions from WHO exist.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary restraining order against the website operators, requiring them to immediately block public access to it.
“The Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain. 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,” Jody Hunt, assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, said.
While the website was ordered to close immediately, its operators are still under investigation. DOJ recommends that members of the public independently verify any online information about COVID-19 and research any charities or other sites soliciting pandemic-related donations.