AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Domain registrar NameCheap is banning new website applications that include terms like “coronavirus,” “covid” and “vaccine” from being automatically registered in an effort to prevent fraud related to the ongoing pandemic.
The move, announced Thursday in an email to customers, came days after a federal judge in Texas ordered the removal of a bogus website registered through NameCheap that claimed to sell free World Health Organization coronavirus vaccine kits for $4.95 in shipping costs.
In its first federal enforcement action stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice accused the unknown operators of the website, listed in court documents as John Doe, of wire fraud for stealing credit card information while offering the phony vaccine kits. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus but that process could take up to 18 months to be fully developed and approved.
“There are always those who try to take advantage of crisis situations by carrying out acts of fraud,” NameCheap CEO Richard Kirkendall wrote in an emailed statement to customers. “In response, we are actively working with authorities to both proactively prevent, and take down, any fraudulent or abusive domains or websites related to Covid-19. This includes banning certain terms such as ‘coronavirus,’ ‘covid,’ and ‘vaccine’ from our domain search tool so they cannot be purchased and used for abuse.”
Kirkendall said that legitimate requests for coronavirus-related domain names would be reviewed and manually registered by the company’s support team, which are working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A telephone hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in the enforcement action against the website operators. All in-person settings in the Western District of Texas where the case was filed were canceled until May 1 in light of the virus outbreak.
The Justice Department recommends that Americans take precautionary measures to protect themselves from emerging scams related to Covid-19, including independently verify the identity of any company, charity or individual that contacts you regarding the virus.
The government also advises that people be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies or treatment of Covid-19, and to ignore offers for a coronavirus vaccine, cure or treatment.
As of Friday afternoon, there are more than 97,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States and 1,475 Americans have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.