Federal court action to combat COVID-19 fraud filed in Austin

A federal investigation in a website claiming to offer free coronavirus vaccine kits was launched after an FBI Cyber Squad agent in Austin confirmed that the World Health Organization (WHO) was not providing free kits as claimed.

The website, called coronavirusmedicalkit.com, offered free vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95 to be paid by credit card.

"There's a lot of really bad people out there trying to take advantage of the vulnerable, but this is something else as scams go,” said John F. Bash, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

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More virus-related scams are expected according to Bash.

"And if you get someone that is not paying a lot of attention but they hear something is a really scary out there, and you tell them they can get a vaccine for 5 bucks, you can see how that would tempt a lot of people to give over their credit card information, and then who knows what happens when you give it over,” said Bash.

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A third-floor suite in a Phoenix office building is the listed address for the website. According to court documents, the Department of Justice informed the domain host, NameCheap, about the website's false and fraudulent claims, but NameCheap allegedly took no action. As a result, a federal injunction was signed, ordering the website to be shut down. 

The FBI is currently in the process of locating those who set up the website.

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This case may be the first of its kind, but federal agents have been busy. In two recent unrelated cases, shipments of fake testing kits have been intercepted by federal agents. U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week confiscated fake COVID-19 test kits which were traced back to the UK.

CBP posted on social media earlier this month about boxes filled with fake test kits that were confiscated in Los Angeles.

The scams don't surprise security expert Fred Burton, who spoke to FOX 7 Austin via FaceTime.

"It’s across the whole spectrum, you are going to have some elements of organized crime, involved in this, form Russians, Ukrainians, you are also going to have individuals that are lurking that try to get access to your credit card data, to put it out on the dark web and sell it, it’s the new world we are living in, and unfortunately with everybody so interconnected today, it just shows the need for good cyber hygiene and for everybody to remain vigilant and don’t click on random links,” said Burton.

Burton and federal officials also warn to be cautious of investment opportunities tied to the viral outbreak, especially those claiming to be providing items like masks and other medical supplies.

FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. Every weekday we're live at 1 p.m. with a special show reporting the latest news, prevention tips and treatment information.

You can watch live in your FOX 7 Austin app or on the FOX 7 Austin Facebook page.

You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.