US orders first shutdown of website over coronavirus fraud

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States (US) Department of Justice announced last Sunday it had shut down a website claiming to sell a coronavirus vaccine, in its first act of federal enforcement against fraud in connection with the pandemic.

Lawsuits had been filed against the site, which claimed to sell vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, when in fact there is no such vaccine, the Justice Department said in a statement. A Texas federal judge last Saturday ordered the site to shut down, according to the statement. Its homepage, however, was still accessible as of last Sunday evening.

“Due to the recent outbreak for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) the World Health Organization is giving away vaccine kits. Just pay USD4.95 for shipping,” read a statement on the homepage. It was followed by a place to leave bank account information to pay shipping fees. The Justice Department did not specify how many people fell victim to the scam, but the investigation is ongoing to identify who is behind the fraud and how much money was stolen.

The intervention by the federal judiciary system is part of ongoing efforts by US authorities to combat the spread of misinformation that has blossomed since the start of the pandemic.