Federal authorities block fake websites in fight against COVID-19 fraud

Maryland investigators said Monday they’ve seized their ninth fake website set up by crooks trying to cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal of the website “freevaccinecovax.org” was to steal personal information or install malware, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Baltimore said in a news release.

The site’s registrant country was listed as Russia; it claimed to be for a biotech company that actually is developing a COVID-19 vaccine, and it displayed actual logos for Pfizer and the World Health Organization, the prosecutors said. Authorities said seizing the site prevents others from accessing the site in its current form, and from acquiring the domain name to commit additional crimes.

“We must make an example of these perpetrators in order to deter others from committing these crimes against an unsuspecting and vulnerable Internet user,” said James Mancuso, Special Agent in Charge for the HSI Baltimore Field Office.

“Members of the public should not provide personal information or click on links in unsolicited emails and should remember that the COVID-19 vaccine is not for sale,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner.

COVID-19 vaccine is free for people living in the U.S.

The Department for Homeland Security has tips to avoid scams involving COVID-19 vaccines and treatments:

  • Don’t purchase COVID-19 vaccines and treatments over the internet.
  • Ignore unsolicited offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures.
  • Don’t respond to related texts, emails or robocalls.
  • Be wary of social media ads for vaccines and treatments.
  • Always consult with a licensed medical professional to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.
  • Report suspicious activity involving COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to COVID19FRAUD@dhs.gov.

Anyone who suspects they were a victim of, or targeted for, COVID-19 related fraud can call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or go to the U.S. Department of Justice’s coronavirus website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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