DOJ’s First Coronavirus Fraud Action Targets ‘Vaccine Kits’

Advertising Law

The Department of Justice (DOJ) took its first action to combat fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic, scoring a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the unknown registrant of a website that purported to sell “vaccine kits.”

For $4.95 in shipping, the site (www.coronavirusmedical.com) promised to send a World Health Organization (WHO) “vaccine kit” to consumers who shared their credit card information. The website also used a photograph of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, to add the imprimatur of the United States government to its claims, the DOJ alleged.

Given that there are no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any kits, the claims on the website were clearly false, the DOJ said.

“The purpose of the website is to induce victims to pay [the defendant] … $4.95 for such non-existent kits, and/or to obtain credit card and other personal information from victims for purposes of engaging in fraudulent purchases and identity theft,” according to the Texas federal court complaint. “Absent injunctive relief by this court, defendant’s conduct will continue to cause injury to victims.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted the DOJ’s motion for a TRO, halting the defendant from committing wire fraud, maintaining and doing business through the website, destroying business records related to the business, and taking actions designed to interfere with the court’s orders.

To read the complaint in United States v. Doe, click here

To read the TRO, click here.

Why it matters

The lawsuit may be the first filed by the government to protect consumers from a COVID-19-related scam, but it definitely won’t be the last. “The [DOJ] will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the agency’s Civil Division said in a statement. “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.”

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