The Department of Justice has acted swiftly on its vow to crack down on fraud during the coronavirus pandemic, issuing its first related enforcement action Sunday.
The DOJ filed a civil complaint in federal court in Austin, Texas, against the operators of the Website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com,” alleging the operation is a “wire-fraud scheme seeking to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19.” According to the DOJ, the site claims to offer World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95 payable by credit card; in reality, there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, nor is WHO distributing vaccine kits.
The DOJ’s action served to shut down the Website, which is no longer live as of this writing, while an investigation of the Website and its operators continues.
The announcement of the enforcement action comes less than a week after Attorney General William Barr shared an internal memo with all U.S. attorneys general emphasizing the DOJ’s desire to prioritize enforcement against coronavirus fraudsters. “The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic, and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” Barr wrote. “Every U.S. Attorney’s office is, thus, hereby directed to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.”
The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Food and Drug Administration have similarly focused on thwarting coronavirus fraud. The agencies on March 9 sent warning letters to seven companies allegedly selling unapproved products that may violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat COVID-19. One of the letter recipients was popular televangelist Jim Bakker, who pushed a silver solution sold on his Website as a potential coronavirus treatment on his show without any proof of its effectiveness.
Other high-profile cases of crackdowns on coronavirus fraud include New York Attorney General Letitia James’ threat of legal action against far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for his marketing and selling of toothpaste claimed to prevent and cure coronavirus.