AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A scam website asking people for their credit card numbers by claiming it can sell free World Health Organization coronavirus vaccine kits for $4.95 in shipping was taken down after the federal government filed a lawsuit to shutter it.
An FBI agent visited coronavirusmedicalkit.com on Thursday and read: “Due to the recent outbreak for the Coronavirus (Covid-19) the World Health Organization is giving away vaccine kits. Just pay $4.95 for shipping,” the Justice Department said in a federal lawsuit filed Saturday in Austin.
The World Health Organization is not giving away vaccines for the virus because none are available.
Medical companies and government scientists are rushing to find a vaccine, but experts say it will take at least a year before one is developed because they must be tested on animals, then in clinical trials with hundreds of volunteers, half of whom will get the vaccine and the other half who will get a placebo.
The process is necessary to ensure vaccines do not cause dangerous side effects and to pin down what dose will produce enough antibodies.
The lawsuit names John Doe as the defendant and accuses him of wire fraud. It says the web services company NameCheap Inc. registered the fraudulent website on March 3.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman signed a temporary restraining order on Sunday, ordering NameCheap, of Phoenix, to block public access to the site.
NameCheap did not respond Monday morning to a request for comment.
The Justice Department said to fool consumers that the website was legitimate the crooks posted a photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
It said the lawsuit is the first federal action it’s taken to combat fraud stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a statement.
The website is another example of misinformation that has been floating around the internet, from the claim that gargling with warm water mixed with salt or vinegar kills the virus, to the conspiracy theory that the virus is connected to China’s rollout of 5G wireless communication networks.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner held a news conference Friday night to assure residents that contrary to reports popping up on social media, he is not planning to shut down the city Monday night.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said: “We’re going to continue to monitor false posts, and we’re going to charge the people responsible for making false posts.”
It’s understandable why the reports seem credible to some Houston residents, given that the governors of California and New York issued statewide stay-at-home orders Thursday and Friday.
The governors of Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio and Louisiana followed up with similar orders to take effect Monday and Tuesday.