U.S. federal prosecutors have filed and won a temporary restraining order against a website offering a fraudulent coronavirus vaccine, which the Justice Department said is its first enforcement action related to the pandemic.
In a statement, the Justice Dept. said the action was taken against a website, said to be engaging in a wire fraud scheme, seeking "to profit from the confusion and widespread fear" surrounding COVID-19.
The website, seen by TechCrunch, claims the World Health Organization is "giving away vaccine kits" to unsuspecting victims who pay a small fee for shipping. The website asks for a victim's credit card information.
"In fact, there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine," the Justice Department's statement said.
A federal judge issued the temporary restraining order against the website's owners, whose names are not known. The order also demanded that Namecheap, the site's domain host, pull the site offline.
Although the Justice Dept. names the website, we are not. The website was accessible at the time of publication. Hours later, Namecheap spokesperson Derek Musso told TechCrunch that it had suspended the site.
Assistant attorney general Jody Hunt said: "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."
As it stands, there are more than 300,000 confirmed cases around the world. But as government authorities continue to lack testing equipment, the global number of infections is said to be far higher.
As of Friday, some 80 million Americans are under lockdown, including in California, New York and Illinois, in an effort to limit the spread of the respiratory illness.
On Thursday, the U.S. ordered an unprecedented "do not travel" warning to all Americans.
Updated with Namecheap comment.